MERIDEN — It can be something so small and private that it fits into the cap of a tube of toothpaste.
And it can be something so big and universal that every guy on a 59-man football roster feels it.
This, say the Maloney football Spartans, is the spirit of Jaylon Nixon, and you’d better believe that when the Class L state championship game kicks off this morning at 11 a.m. at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, that spirit will go with the Maloney Spartans.
Jaylon-DeVine W. Nixon has been gone since June 21, 2020. Driving home from work early that morning, the Maloney graduate and Southern Connecticut State freshman was in a car accident and died from the injuries he sustained.
June 21: The summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Jaylon was 18.
One year, five months and 20 days have passed. And yet the Spartans, Nixon’s younger brother Daejon among them, say Jaylon has never gone away.
“I just feel like every day we go out and practice he’s there, he’s watching us, and we know that if we give it our all he’s going to be there and good things are going to happen for this team,” said senior safety Johnny Rosado. “He’s kind of like a guardian over all us.”
“It gives me chills talking about it.”
You may or may not believe in such things. The Spartans do, and Jaylon, who wore No. 7 in his Maloney playing days, is their 12th man.
He was their 12th man during independent football last season and he was their 12th man when CIAC football returned this fall and he’ll be their 12th man this morning against Windsor.
“People walk around with Jaylon’s number on their helmet, write ‘Jaylon’ on their wrist tape every day,” said senior fullback Stone De’Leon. “We take pride in that. He’s watching over us.”
“Everybody in Meriden knew Jaylon and knew what he wanted and the passion he had to play football, the passion he had on the field,” said senior wide receiver Ian Graham. “We always try to match it everyday. This is for him up there.”
The Spartans go into today’s game wanting to win a state championship for themselves, for Maloney, for all of Meriden. And they want to win for Jaylon, whose final game was on the same Veterans Stadium field in the 2018 Class L final against Daniel Hand.
Jaylon was one of Maloney’s starting 11 on defense at outside linebacker and one of Maloney’s starting 11 on offense at receiver.
He was one of the 11 on special teams, too. It was Jaylon who recovered the successful onside the Spartans sprung on the opening kickoff.
And it was Jaylon who caught the touchdown pass that Elliot Good threw on the very next play.
Those two plays, with Jaylon Nixon at the heart of them, led the precious few highlights the Spartans had against Hand that December day in New Britain.
Yet what was that 54-14 loss compared to the loss Maloney and Meriden and anyone living anywhere who knew Jaylon felt when they heard the news of June 21, 2020?
Jaylon was at the heart of them all — the hub of the team, the smile that brought the room together, the senior who was shepherd to the rookies.
“All of us seniors, we experienced playing with Jaylon,” noted outside linebacker Jack Fitzgerald, who now mans the position Jaylon once played. “We were all freshmen when he was a senior, so we saw how he played.”
“I looked at him as a big brother,” said Rosado. “He was there for all of us at any time. My freshman year I saw him at school all the time. He was always there for us whenever we needed it.”
Jaylon was younger than his sister Raeshell, but the oldest of the three Nixon boys. He took care of Daejon and the youngest brother, William, whenever their mother Teresa had to work.
“He was like my father; he was my role model,” Daejon said. “My mom would work a lot, trying to support us, a single mom, four kids. My brother stepped up and he looked after me and my younger brother and did a lot for us.”
Jaylon would stay on Daejon and William. “Make sure you clean up and pick up.” He taught them tasks big and small.
“Like, there’s this one thing I do specifically every day and it’s because of him,” Daejon relates. “He always said, ‘Make sure you put the cap back on the toothpaste.’ I never realized how important that little detail was. Every morning, I find myself putting the cap back on the toothpaste after I use it.”
Daejon wears a necklace bearing his big brother’s name and the numeral 7. He also wears No. 7 on his uniform. The defensive lineman wore No. 77 to start the season, then switched just before Thanksgiving.
“The beginning half of the year, I wanted to play my game and show people my brand. That’s Number 77, what I have to offer,” Daejon explained. “The second half of the season was more commemorating him and showing my other side, the Number 7. Honoring him and taking it all the way.”
There’s no question the Spartans want to get that ultimate win that eluded Jaylon, to raise that state championship plaque skyward on the very same field where his career came to an end.
“It’s just really something inspirational,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to do this for him because his last game he played was a state championship game. He ended up losing. It would be huge to win this game for him.”
To hear the Spartans tell it, Jaylon will be there every step of the day, from the minute they board the bus at Maloney and get a police escort out of town to the final minute at Veterans Stadium.
“We know he’s there with us; we know when we step on the field he’s right there with us,” Rosado said. “That’s what motivates us and, I feel, gives us that — that edge — over teams. Something different comes over us when we step on the field.”
That was Jaylon. He was the young gentleman who became a tiger on the turf, hitting well above his weight. A diver on the swim team — the sport he continued at Southern Connecticut — Jaylon was also graceful and fearless.
“We’re thinking about him a lot; we know he’s with us,” head coach Kevin Frederick said earlier in the week. “He’ll help us prepare as we go forward and he’ll be there in spirit when we take the field Saturday.
“Number 7 is always with us,” Frederick added. “He’s a special part of our family. He always will be.”
Jaylon remains the big brother — to Daejon and to anyone else receptive to the guidance.
“You know, honestly, it’s not that he talks to me — he talks to some people, they say — but to me, I can feel him a little bit,” Daejon said. “I talk to him and I can feel him a little bit, and I just know that he’s there. I can feel it for sure, sometimes.
“I miss him a lot. I wear his name around my neck. I have his name and number tatooed on me. I think about him constantly. Every day is a reminder,” Daejon added. ‘But I use it in a positive way. I use how much I miss him to push through and make myself better, as a reminder: ‘Daejon, be the best you every day you can be for your brother.’
“That’s my motivation. I’m not alone in this. A lot of people out there spread his name in a positive way.”