The Maples Dolphins flag football side was so poor last season that they did not win a match. Under those circumstances, it’s a wonder the nucleus of the side returned this term, possibly facing more embarrassment.
But so strong was the coaching spirit, team unity and collective determination, the Dolphins have produced some successes this season and are no longer the league’s whipping boys.
One of the reasons for the turnaround is through the involvement of the Dolphins’ most versatile player, Larue Nixon Jr.
In the four years he has played flag locally, Nixon has gone from novice to a national team candidate for a tournament in Bahamas from Oct. 9-12. A flag football enthusiast during his education in California, he first got involved in the sport at Santa Clarita Christian High School and then College of The Canyons COC.
Nixon’s enthusiasm and total commitment is evident. “My satisfaction comes from motivating my team to strive to be the best as we raise the bar and our level of playing each year,” he said.
“I don’t really have a set position with the Dolphins as I can pretty much fit anywhere the team needs me.
“But if I had to pick a specific position it would be slot or wide receiver [offense] and corner or safety [defense].”
There is a fierce rivalry between the teams, evident by the intensity of plays and constant questioning of debatable decisions by officials, but Nixon loves it, particularly because there is little or no hostility nor simmering grievances after games.
“The Cayman flag scene is what you make it,” he said. “Once out on the gridiron there are no friends. It’s your family by your side, fighting an all-out war full of guts, blood and gore. Then, of course, the whistle blows and we shake hands and it’s back to reality.”
Involved in team sports throughout the year, Nixon also plays soccer for Scholars International as a striker or in midfield. Basketball is another interest, as point guard for Peachwave.
“I’m very athletic and can pretty much accomplish all things through Christ who strengthens me,” said the 22-year-old Caymanian who is a personal trainer. “I’m a keen listener and have leadership qualities and love to motivate and push my teammates to achieve and unlock their full potential.”
He added that he has “an abundant love for all sports and exercising, after all, health is the new wealth and fitness is the witness.”
Nixon’s local sporting heroes, he says “are everyone involved with Maples Dolphins from coaches Shawn Pitterson and Rohan Marshall to every member on the team.”
Nixon is pleasantly surprised by the side’s unity. “I’ve never been on a team that would stick together after being the beating stick for every team in the league to punish,” he said.
“Last season we never won a single game. This season we’ve competed with the best teams in the league and held our ground and improved.”
Nixon is a great believer in sportsmanship. He loves the rough and tumble of flag although strictly speaking apart from blocking at a snap, it’s supposed to be non-contact with opponents only allowed to tackle the ball carrier by pulling the flags from shorts.
“Guys hit me hard and I do my fair share of damage but once the game comes to an end, everyone shakes hands and congratulates each other, everything is left on the field.”
He would love to see full-on tackle football. “Let’s get rid of the flags and get helmets and pads so we can separate the men from the boys.” No consideration for lengthy, painful injuries, expensive medical bills and long, nonpaying stints from work then.
Nixon feels Cayman could improve its sporting tourism revenue by involving more young athletes.
He wants to see more multi-sports facilities built where students can attend for free, because gym and sports membership is usually unaffordable for them. “Let’s provide facilities that cater to our athletes and give them a place to spread their wings and soar to new heights.”
If Nixon makes the Cayman Islands flag national team, he thinks the experience and exposure could help improve his game.
A pretty speedy player with the ball in his hand, being in a 100 meter team relay would be his greatest sporting realization, mainly because “it’s a group effort everyone has to work as a TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More – to accomplish the common goal.”
Despite the seriousness of flag games, Nixon is always amused by the piercing demands of normally mild-mannered coach Pitterson who could be constantly heard at the Ed Bush stadium in West Bay on Saturday when the Dolphins played Maples Knights.
The Dolphins drew 12-12 after overtime. Chris LeBeau is the Dolphins quarterback and despite his vast experience and Nixon’s sizzling runs as well as Deandre Simpson’s blistering turn of pace when he got the ball, the teams could not be separated. At least it was not another loss, as was happening last season.
“Shawn is so actively involved with the game from the sideline he gets well hyped, jumping and screaming, then projects his voice to a point where you have to stop and wonder how is he speaking so loud and fierce,” said Nixon.
“You literally hear every single word over the whole entire crowd. It’s truly my favorite sight.”