For some guidance in the throwing events, Nixon's father got in touch with a longtime family friend, Brent Bell of Weatherford, who has coached some of the state's top throwers.
Then by coincidence, Lamar Garrett, a former Santa Fe high jumper, was back at the school looking for an opportunity to jump-start a coaching career of his own.
Garrett won a junior-college national championship in the high jump before going on to jump for Kansas State.
“He and Gunnar hit it off right away,” Hawkins said. “That's when Gunnar took off in the high jump. He cleared 7 feet that year, with Lamar's help.
“It's nice to be able to let some other people, in their specialty, do what they do.”
Working with Nixon was Garrett's first real experience as a coach. Now, he's back at Kansas State as a volunteer assistant, but coaching Nixon spoiled him.
“I was just trying to get a little coaching experience and that just kind of landed in my hands,” said Garrett, who still stays in close contact with Nixon about his workouts and competitions. “He listens. You don't have to fight with an ego, and that's not always the case with a talented athlete. It was my first experience in coaching and he made it real easy.”
That coachability is another quality that sets Nixon apart.
“You tell him one thing and he can correct the problem on the next jump,” Boxley said. “He's a student of the sport.”
And ultimately, Nixon's success comes back to his commitment to being the best he can be.
Nixon carefully watches his diet and workout sessions as he tries to add some upper-body muscle to his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame, and he keeps a strict eye on his sleeping patterns.
“I know my body really well,” Nixon said. “My freshman year, I stopped drinking pop and eating bad foods and I started seeing my improvement go up. With sleeping, just go to sleep at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends, so that your body is used to it.
“It's hard at first, but once you've done it for a couple of years, it's just what you do.”
Soon, Nixon will have one of the best college coaching staffs teaching him at Arkansas.
Combined with his physical and mental makeup, there's no predicting where the ceiling of his competitive career might be.
“He's a knowledgeable kid who knows what he wants to accomplish. And those are few and far between,” Boxley said. “When he gets to Arkansas, he could be a placer at nationals all four years, and maybe win a couple.”
“He's got very high expectations and he truly believes he can accomplish them,” Hawkins added. “And I think that's part of what gets you to that next level.”