Niagara Falls' Dixon making waves on the mat for Canisius

Paul Battson/ContributorIn this Dec. 21, 2019 file photo, Canisius' Joe Dixon (left), a Niagara Falls native, wrestles Grand Island’s Adam Daghestani in the 170-pound bracket at the Linda C. Knuutila Memorial Wrestling Tournament at Niagara County Community College.

By field or by mat it doesn't matter, leaders lead. That's all that Joe Dixon does.

The Niagara Falls native has found a home on Delaware Avenue, helping Canisius football win its first Catholic state title since 2016 in the fall. "JoJo" hasn't stopped there though; the junior has dominated the wrestling scene this season, compiling a 36-3 record in the 160- and 170-pound weight classes. 

Wrestling coach David Wilcox said it's been phenomenal working with Dixon this season, calling him a very bright kid and a great asset to the team because of his leadership and talents. But it's the intangible qualities about Dixon that have stood out most to Wilcox.

"His leadership is something we can't really coach. ... First and foremost, he holds his teammates accountable," Wilcox said. "When they make a mistake, he let's them know about it, but then he helps them correct that mistake to better themselves."

Wilcox also talked about how Dixon has taken his practice partner under his wing, guiding Brayden Vandenberg in his sophomore campaign. The Wheatfield resident is doing work himself, totaling a 38-5 record on the year.

"Brayden exploded on the scene this year. I mean, last year he had a very decent year," Wilcox said of Vandenberg, who finished at 31-20 as a freshman. "But with Joe's presence in the room, Brayden blossomed into, what I'll say is a grown man now. ... I call them like our backbone, because those two are normally our anchors in our lineups. They both perform very well."

This year Wilcox has learned how selfless Dixon is, especially when it comes to giving advice to teammates. Although just two coaches are allowed to work with their wrestlers during a match, Dixon is always in his fellow Crusaders' corners, cheering them on and coaching them up however he can.

With a full year left to finish with Canisius, Wilcox knows how bright Dixon's future is. All-Catholic league championships and state championships — in both football and wrestling — are among the things Wilcox can see for his star student-athlete.

Although he knows Dixon's focus is making it to the next level with football, Wilcox relishes being able to see Dixon work on his "revenge tour" to help the Crusaders atone for early season mat mishaps before the 2020 season closes out.

Dixon knows one of his purposes on this Earth is to lead. And leading is what he'll keep on doing.

"For me, it's (because) I'm just born to be a leader, especially when I'm somebody that a lot of the kids look up to," Dixon said. "So it's just important for me to pick them up and lead them in the right direction, so I can be a better person and a better athlete."

Dixon mentioned how close he is with his fellow Niagara County native in Vandenberg, sharing that they ride home from practice together every day and travel to and from meets together, too.

"That's someone that definitely looks up to me and I like that he looks up to me," Dixon said. "I take pride in that. And in everything I do, I try to steer him in the right direction of how to do things and he's just a great kid. That's like my little brother. I love the kid and he's a great wrestler too."

Going from Niagara Falls to Canisius, Dixon has not felt it has been a drastic change leaving one great wrestling program for the next. Working with a fellow Niagara County native like Wilcox has been a pleasure for Dixon, but he makes sure to keep his ties in order in the Cataract City.

"As far as Niagara Falls wrestling, I'm always there. Coach (DJ Giancola), he still allows me to come practice with them in the wrestling room," Dixon said. "It's still a family when it comes down to Niagara Falls."

Joe's father, Eric, has had an eye on Canisius as a program for his son since "JoJo" was in middle school. The school's revered curriculum and commitment to building character while instilling the necessary core values needed to groom and nurture young men were just what he thought Joe needed.

It doesn't hurt either that the Crusaders have one of Western New York's most successful football programs, making the decision a "no-brainer." Although Joe is still adjusting himself in the classroom, he has teachers, teammates and coaches to hold him accountable and to help him grow even more.

Because of this, Eric knows Canisius is where his son needs to be.

"He now realizes the importance of time management and (how) getting in those books when he gets home from practice is the key to becoming the successful student, person and athlete that we know he can be," Eric said. "He has a ways to go but we are confident he will continue to persevere and challenge himself in the classroom as hard as he does athletically.

"It has been a pleasure to witness him set personal academic and athletic goals he (has) for himself. He has accomplished a few and is working towards fulfilling the rest, one of which is to help his team win back-to-back state titles."

The love, respect and trust that "JoJo" has for Canisius has grown, which sparked with football season but has flourished even more on the mats this winter.

With Canisius hosting this weekend's Monsignor Martin All-Catholic Wrestling Championships, Joe wants to put on a show for his home crowd. He expects to take the league title at 170 pounds before taking on next weekend's statewide Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Wrestling Championships.

Even with college scouts clamoring, more accolades to claim and two senior seasons left to wrap up, "JoJo" wants to stay where his boots are and remain in the moment.

"It's kind of exciting looking forward to, but I just don't want to rush it," Joe said. "I want to finish out enjoying the rest of my year."

Follow sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on WGR 550's 'Inside High School Sports,' as well as the 'Greater WNY Sports Connection' podcast, a collaboration with Jon Simon and WNY Athletics.

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