Sledgehammer offensive tackle Matt Nix, left, lines up for a play in the Oct. 28 Doughboy Classic.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - A 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Soldier is getting a shot at pro football.

The Columbus Lions have signed offensive and defensive lineman Matt Nix to a one-year contract, head coach Jason Gibson said. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal was finalized Nov. 10.

Playing right offensive tackle, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Nix helped power Sledgehammer Brigade to a 29-13 win over Columbus State University's club team Oct. 28 in the inaugural Doughboy Classic. Gibson coached the 3rd HBCT squad and said he plans to give Nix a look on both sides of the ball.

"I wasn't expecting to find any players out there, but he was physically bigger and stronger than a lot of people," Gibson said. "If I didn't think he could make it, I wouldn't have signed him, wouldn't have wasted his time. I think he's going to rise to the level of the talent that's around him ... and be even better than he was in that Hammer game."

The arrangement won't conflict with his Soldier duties, the coach said. Training camp opens the first weekend of March, but practices start at 6 p.m. nightly and games are played on Saturdays.

"My platoon sergeant just told me to make sure training comes first," said Nix, 23, a sergeant assigned to 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. "If you're in the field, you're in the field. As long as it doesn't interfere with training, it'll be all right.

"The Columbus State game showed me I still have my footwork and I'm as strong as I used to be, it's just a matter of whether or not I can compete on another level."

Gibson said Nix first distinguished himself on the practice field.

"The first thing is his character," he said. "Obviously, you've got to have some athletic ability, but it was just the way he conducted his business at practice. ... I like his discipline (and) punctuality. Everything they do on a daily basis in the Army - I'm hoping that will carry over to my team and some of the players who don't understand 'team over me.'"

Nix was a second team all-state defensive end at Caddo Mills High School near Dallas, where he recorded 83 tackles and nine sacks as a senior in 2005. He played a year at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., an NAIA school, but lost his scholarship and wound up joining the Army in March 2006.

Two months of workouts and practices leading up to CSU got Nix reconditioned for the game, he said.

"I thought I might go out and embarrass myself - I wasn't in shape anymore," he said. "Two months in, I was starting to hit my peak again. ... Being in shape for the Army and being in shape for football are two different things."

The Lions captured their first Southern Indoor Football League championship in July. They open the 2011 season at home March 27 against the Richmond Raiders on Military Appreciation Night at the Columbus Civic Center.

Nix isn't sure where this opportunity might lead but said he'd love to play in the Arena Football League or make an NFL practice squad someday.

"That's always in my dreams," he said. "You never know how far something like this could take you."

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16