San Diego State cornerback Tory Nixon, eagerly awaiting the National Football League draft, felt like his four hours of unsettled sleep Tuesday morning lasted an eternity.
“I woke up every five minutes between 1 and 5,” said Nixon. “It was a long night. . . . But then the next five hours were really long.”
Nixon waited from 5 a.m. when he camped in front of the television set at the draft’s beginning, until the Washington Redskins announced at 10:15 a.m. that he was their second-round pick. He was the first player selected by the Redskins, and the 33rd player taken in the draft.
“I sure was relieved when I heard my name called,” Nixon said. “We all started yelling and screaming.”
By the time it was announced, Nixon had been joined in his apartment near campus by his fiancee, Elizabeth MacDonald; his brothers, Chuck (sophomore defensive back at SDSU) and Brandon; his roommate Jack Eaton, and three of his teammates.
Nixon, a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference choice and the Aztecs’ most valuable player this past season, was the fifth player taken in the second round and the 33rd player selected.
Other Aztec players selected from a team that went 4-7-1 last season were linebacker James Moran and fullback Mike Waters. Johnson was a third-round choice of the Detroit Lions, and the 62nd pick of the draft. Moran was a third-round choice of the Green Bay Packers, and the 71st pick. Waters was a ninth-round choice of the N.Y. Jets, and the 235th pick.
Nixon was the fourth defensive back selected.
“When I first came here,” Nixon said, “I had no aspirations to play pro football. After I was here for a while, I thought I had a chance.”
Nixon transferred to SDSU from Phoenix College in his junior year, and immediately became a starter. He intercepted five passes this season and scored on touchdown returns of 97 yards against Air Force and 80 yards against Utah.
There had been considerable speculation whether the 5-foot 11-inch, 180-pound Nixon would go late in the first round, or be selected in the second or third round.
“A lot of people told me that Chicago might take me in the first round,” Nixon said, “but I had no idea where I’d be picked. I started getting a little nervous when a few players were picked in the second round, and I still hadn’t heard my name.”
Nixon was not the only nervous one. The Redskins, who were in the market for a cornerback, were hoping Nixon would still be available by the time they had their first pick in the draft. As part of a Tuesday morning trade, the Redskins swapped second-round picks with the Atlanta Falcons. That enabled them to get the 33rd pick instead of the 51st pick.
Washington also had to send running back Joe Washington and a first-round draft pick in 1986 to the Falcons for second and sixth-round picks in 1986.
“We felt fortunate Nixon was still there at that point,” said Kirk Mee, director of professional personnel for the Redskins. “We felt if we waited any longer, more than likely he wouldn’t have been there.”
Washington also is getting a confident player.
“I’ve played against a lot of the people that got drafted,” Nixon said, “and I’ve held my own against them. You can’t go in with the attitude that you’re scared. If you do, you don’t have a prayer.”
Added Aztec defensive coordinator Burnie Miller: “Tory’s only weakness is his height, and you can’t do much about that unless you hang him a couple of times a day.”
The Redskins are not about to hang their top draft pick, and they also don’t seem concerned about Tory’s lack of height.
“He’s very smart, is an aggressive kid who will hit, and we feel he has good size for a cornerback,” Mee said.
Mee said the Redskins saw Nixon play a number of times in his senior season, and were very impressed with his performances in post-season all-star games and his high scores on the intelligence tests given by the scouting combines.
And Nixon was quite pleased to be going to Washington, even though he has never been there.
“If I had to pick a team east of Denver, Washington would be it. They have sellouts, a winning team and a good shot at the Super Bowl,” he said.
The events Tuesday made Nixon feel even better about his dealings or actually his non-dealings with the Arizona Outlaws.
Nixon was the second choice of the Outlaws in the United States Football League draft earlier this year, but they failed to pursue him.
It was disappointing for Nixon, at first, because he was a basketball and football star at Shadow Mountain High in Phoenix, and playing for the Outlaws would have meant going home.
“It was strange the way they handled it,” Nixon said. “They drafted me, and then flat-out told me they couldn’t afford me because I’d go high in the NFL draft.”
They were right.
Unlike Nixon, linebacker James Johnson said he didn’t spend the morning watching the broadcast of the draft.
“Detroit called me just before they were going to announce that they drafted me,” Johnson said, “and then I turned on the TV.”
The 6-2, 220-pound linebacker, an honorable mention All-WAC selection, said he thought he might be picked around the fourth round.
“The Lions talked to me the most and kept in touch the most,” Johnson said, “so I wasn’t that surprised when they selected me.”
Rich Moran was an All-WAC selection at tackle, but he said there still wasn’t much interest from professional scouts until the scouting combines came out with their post-season reports.
“I thought I’d go between the third and sixth rounds,” Moran said, “but a lot of people said I really helped myself with the combines.