CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -Every Monday at 9:30 a.m., the phone rings in Miami coach Randy Shannon's office. The father of defensive tackle Antonio Dixon is on the other end, calling for yet another status report.
``How's he doing?''
Shannon might not hear an easier question all week.
Someone who inexplicably wasn't taught to read until 10th grade is now earning some B's at a top-notch private university. He's a key member of the football team. A long battle with weight is getting under control. An adolescence marred by homelessness and poverty and dysfunction is in the past, and his future is bright.
So with that, Shannon is ready to answer.
``Oh, man, Antonio's doing great,'' Shannon says, before breaking into specifics of that week's game. ``He was out there, he flew around and he had a great time.''
In Jesup, Ga., 450 miles away, federal prisoner 88607-071 is thrilled.
For most of his childhood, Dixon didn't know who Frazier Hawkins was. Didn't know he was a fine football player. Didn't know he was a well-respected high school wrestling coach in Miami. Just knew he wasn't around, and was serving time for drug trafficking.
``My mom always told me he was a good man,'' Dixon said. ``He just got caught up doing the wrong stuff, trying to take care of me and my other little brother and sister.''
Now, though, they actually have a father-son relationship - or, at least, the type that can be had when a father is to remain in prison through October 2013. Dixon and Hawkins speak regularly these days, and the son's success in football helps the father get through the depressing lifestyle that accompanies prison.
``I'm very proud of him. He could have been another way, made wrong choices, done wrong things,'' Hawkins said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ``But Tony, for some reason, is a very balanced guy. He's come a long way.''
That's for certain.
On the field, Dixon has become a force. His 6-foot-3, 323-pound body is a barrier even hard-charging runners cannot break through, and if it wasn't for a lower-leg injury that interrupted his season, some Miami coaches believe he could have been a candidate for a few postseason honors.
But overcoming off-the-field challenges - the ones in real life - is what makes Dixon proudest.
He stutters when he's nervous, which is just about whenever he opens his mouth. Dixon often slaps himself in the chest or arm repeatedly when the words don't flow properly, trying to trick his mind into thinking about something besides the impediment.
He's lost more than 20 pounds this season, primarily at his father's urging. He's also in good academic standing, which is maybe the most stunning accomplishment considering school systems failed him for so many years - as he kept getting promoted to the next grade, without fail, even though he was illiterate.
``As a kid, Tony had a little anger in him, which is normal because of the situation,'' Shannon said. ``And I think now, his dad and people around here have helped him with that. Before, Tony would just quit on you when things got tough for him. Shut it down completely. Not now. He keeps going. He's doing all the right things. Not many people would think he'd have that going for him, but he does.''
Dixon signed with Miami after the 2003 high school season, but wound up going to Milford Prep in New York - taking a Greyhound bus back and forth because no one had money for plane tickets.
His childhood was spent bouncing between relatives in South Florida and Georgia, with many stints in shelters bridging the gaps. Dixon doesn't cringe when talking about his past, nor does he hide his struggles.
``The thing was, I never had anybody telling me what to do,'' Dixon said. ``I could have done anything I wanted. But I didn't choose that route.''
When Dixon was 15 and his father was in prison in Homestead, Fla., a short drive south of Miami, they saw each other for the first time in nearly a decade. Dixon remembers seeing the barbed wire as the car neared the facility, and admits that he was terribly scared when going through the extensive security check before gaining access.
``It was hard,'' Dixon said. ``The whole thing was hard. But I never hated him.''
He finally joined the Hurricanes in time for the 2005 campaign, started a couple games last season and will likely enter next year as one of the leaders of Miami's defense. From there, the NFL could await.
``Knowing he's doing well, that makes me feel great. It really does,'' Hawkins said. ``Coach Shannon is his coach. But I'm a coach, too. I'm his coach on the phone.''
Hawkins and Shannon spoke for 11 minutes one recent Monday. Hawkins did most of the talking, with Shannon nodding in approval much of the time, repeatedly saying, ``Right.''
On a typical Monday morning, Shannon has a schedule filled with meetings with assistant coaches, breaking down the previous game and looking ahead to the next one.
But at 9:30, all his attention is on that call from a prisoner in Georgia, a man trying to make up for lost time.
``He's trying to help out from where he's at. He's just concerned about his son,'' Shannon said. ``It makes me understand that football is important, but football isn't everything. And when any dad gets that excited hearing how their son is doing, in football or in something else, that's a great thing.''

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