While Crystal River has struggled to get untracked on the offensive end this season, it has leaned heavily on its defense to keep it in games.
That has afforded many defensive players the opportunity to step up, one of them being senior Brandon Vickers. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound defensive end recorded 33 tackles — including four for a loss — and a fumble recovery through the first six games.
“Last year we played him at a bunch of different positions,” Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. “He was voted as the most improved player. He had a great summer. Brandon has been very consistent for us. He practices hard every day. He gives great effort.
“The defensive end position, we ask a lot of. He never complains. His teammates love him. He’s kind of a lunch-pail guy. He’s not going to make a lot of noise, he’s not a big rah-rah guy, but he’s someone you know you can depend on.”
No surprise then that Vickers repeatedly talked about putting in the effort it takes to perform at his best.
“It’s always a pleasure to be with my teammates and how hard we work every week to get where we want to be,” Vickers said. “We should keep doing what we’re doing and keep playing hard. I think we should just keep fighting.
“I think I’ve played pretty good, but it’s not what I want it to be. There’s always room for improvement.”
The Pirates (2-5) are very much fighting for survival. At 1-1 in District 5A-8, they can’t afford another loss the rest of the way. They wouldn’t even be in that position if not for a 7-0 win over Hernando last month, featuring a dominant defensive effort.
“We’ve got play our hardest to let our offense gain momentum, so we can get a win,” Vickers said. “We want to go to the playoffs. We’re all hoping to go to the playoffs and win our district and keep pushing forward.”
Vickers believes his strength lies in coming off the ball hard, while he wants to improve on getting off blocks. He’d also like to have more tackles and sacks, having come into the season hoping for 40 tackles and 10-15 sacks.
That his numbers aren’t quite where he’d like them to be isn’t necessarily his fault. As Lohrey pointed out, the Pirates don’t employ a defensive scheme that generally allows for defensive ends to take the spotlight.
“Our whole defensive philosophy is to stop the run first,” Lohrey said. “That’s a guy (at defensive end) who has to be physical, has to be a sound technician. He’s not going to get a ton of recognition or chances to make a ton of flashy plays.”
Nevertheless, Vickers hopes to attract the attention of a college coach. He wants to go to school to study cosmetology, so he can follow in his father’s footsteps and become a barber. But he has played football since the age of 10 and would like to keep doing so by earning a scholarship.
“It’s really important. It’s all I know,” Vickers said. “It’s all I’ve been playing and I’ve been very dedicated to it.”