Clemson freshman Lyn-J Dixon needed just four carries to rush for 116 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' 77-16 win over Louisville last season. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers are full of dancers. But who's the best?

"Lyn-J. Lyn-J Dixon," linebacker Mike Jones Jr. said. "He's just smooth. He's real smooth with it."

Dixon earned a reputation for his fast feet at Taylor County High in Butler, Ga., in school talent shows and pep rallies. He also showed off his moves on the football field, sliding and juking through defensive coverages.  

When his high school career was over, he was the football program's most decorated player ever, a star running back with a scholarship to Clemson. And after a freshman season during which he showed flashes of brilliance in limited time, Dixon's ready to step into the limelight as running back Travis Etienne's primary backup this season. 

Taylor County coach Mark Wilson expects big things from his former pupil.

"I never had a player do some of the things he can do," Wilson said.

What can he do?

He can bounce off tacklers and lumber forward for big gains. He can speed through holes and turn on the jets, outrunning defensive backs. He can change the complexion of game.

That was on display Oct. 6, 2018, when he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in what turned into a 63-3 win over Wake Forest. Then there was Nov. 3, 2018, when he needed just four carries to rush for 116 yards and a touchdown in a 77-16 win over Louisville.

By season's end, the freshman had set a program record by averaging 8.82 yards per carry, the highest average for a Clemson player with at least 300 rushing yards. He totaled 547 yards and five touchdowns on 62 rushes. 

But Dixon's playing time declined as the season wore on. Behind Etienne and former Clemson running backs Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice on the depth chart, Dixon had just 10 total carries in the ACC Championship game against Pittsburgh and the CFP semifinal against Notre Dame. He didn't play in the team's 44-16 national championship win over Alabama, and a reason was not given for his absence.

Things will be different this season. Choice is a member of the Seattle Seahawks; Feaster transferred to South Carolina. Etienne is the team's primary running back, and he'll receive a good portion of the team's carries. But Dixon will be called upon to provide a bigger role.

Co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott thinks Dixon is ready.

"He's matured a lot," Elliott said. "He understands the expectations of being the guy who comes in right behind Travis."

But Clemson running backs must do more than just run, especially with prized sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence sitting in the pocket. Clemson running backs must also block.

Elliott noted that Dixon still needs to clean up his technique from a pass protection standpoint, a sentiment that the running back echoed.

"Picking up blocking schemes, that's what I've really been pushing myself to learn," Dixon said.

That attention to detail has grown in tandem with Dixon's body, thanks in part to his first full year spent with strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson. Coach Dabo Swinney has taken notice.

"Lyn-J is just light years ahead of where he was last year," Swinney said. "Last year he was just lightning in a bottle. Look out. Anything can happen. Sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad. It was not all together with him.

"This year he's a much more complete player."

His athleticism was never the problem. The first tales of Dixon's physical prowess emanated from the local youth football fields. It didn't take long for word to spread around Butler about the linebacker who was faster and stronger than the rest, who left runners sprawled on the ground with bone-crushing tackles.

His legend grew in middle school, because by then Dixon could somehow dunk a basketball. A consensus had formed in town by the time he enrolled at Taylor County.

"Everyone knew he was going to be something special," Wilson said, and not just on the dance floor. 

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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