KNOXVILLE - It was around this time last year that the door through which Dimarya Mixon was hoping to go slammed shut, leaving him to evaluate his options.
He chose the one that took him out of football for a fall and into a job at a local fast-food restaurant.
"It was a whole big situation," he said last week.
It's ended with him carving out a role on Tennessee's new-look defensive line.
Mixon signed with Nebraska out of West Mesquite High School in Texas in 2013, but his route to the Cornhuskers ran into trouble when the NCAA Eligibility Center wouldn't clear him.
"They kind of really didn't know what to do with my situation with the confusion about everything," he said. "Once I found out they didn't know what to do and I stopped talking to the coaches as much, I felt like it was time to move on."
The 6-foot-3, 282-pounder said he had the required grades and test score, so instead of heading to junior college, he stayed out of school and reentered the recruiting process while working out to stay in shape and maintaining a job at a Dallas-area Whataburger, a venture he called "a great experience."
Mixon's wait with Nebraska continued into August last year.
"I ended up not wanting to go no more," he said. "The communication got really short, and we wasn't really talking as much any more. That's really when I decided to open up the process again, and I ended up just going ahead and getting the GED and taking it, and once I got the GED I was cleared.
"That's all I needed, so once I got that, a lot more schools started coming around. Tennessee was actually one of the schools that was recruiting me when I didn't have my GED, so I feel like giving them a chance was probably one of the best things that I did."
He took official visits to Boise State and Washington State and had other visits scheduled to Arizona State and Auburn when he made the trip to Knoxville for the Vols' home game against Auburn last November. The three-star recruit committed after the weekend visit. He enrolled in January and went through spring practice.
Slated to play defensive end at Nebraska, Mixon slid to defensive tackle not long into the spring for Tennessee, a move he said "kind of surprised" him. Mixon arrived at Tennessee weighing less than 265 pounds, but he's added more than 15 since.
"We talk about playing to his strengths. His strengths are is he can run, and he's very athletic," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said Thursday after practice.
"Is he going to be able to sit in there and take on two 300-pounders all the time? I think that's a little bit of responsibility on us as coaches, also, to manage that and continue his personal development. Everyone forgets Mixon's a freshman, and he's 280-something, so we'll just keep developing him and getting him to that point."
Mixon will be part of the Vols' tackle rotation alongside fellow newcomer Owen Williams, a junior college transfer, and veterans Jordan Williams, Danny O'Brien and -- when and if he's healthy -- Trevarris Saulsberry.
He said going against Tennessee's offensive line this preseason has prepared him to play in the SEC's trenches.
"I feel like it's making me even better and more versatile being able to play inside and outside, so I think it's been a great move," Mixon said.
"I feel like I've pretty much showed the coaches how versatile I am and how much I can do," he added, "but I still have a long way to go. I'm going to keep on grinding every day, and it's up to the coaches where they want me to play or how much weight they want me to gain. We'll just see as time goes on."
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