“When do you get here?”
“What’s going on?”
“Are you still a Ute?”
Derrick Vickers faced those kinds of inquiries weekly for a year and a half. And for 18 months, he never had an answer. That hurt. Because as he learned, there’s no worse place than in limbo. That’s where he wound up after first committing to sign with Utah in February of 2017.
The senior wide receiver, from Bakersfield, Calif., was first looked at as a versatile weapon in Troy Taylor’s new offensive scheme. Vickers eventually chose Utah over the likes of Texas A&M, Colorado State, Utah State and others, eager to build upon the accolades he received at Bakersfield College. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder with game-changing ability was on track.
Then, life happened.
Vickers hurt his knee. That required surgery. He faced confusion over what final classes he needed to pass in order to become academically eligible last summer. There was a miscommunication with his college counselor, he said, on which course needed passing to get to Utah. When his knee healed, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to make it to Utah in 2017. His junior year of eligibility evaporated.
Every time he got through one obstacle, another presented itself.
“It was just one thing after another,” he said.
In the meantime, fans asked where he was, what his timeline was for his arrival and whether or not all those videos posted of him staying in shape on his social media pages were ever going to translate to game days inside Rice-Eccles Stadium. The 22-year-old was still a question mark as of three weeks ago. He needed to pass his last class just to get to Salt Lake City. It was an online course, and as Vickers reached out to his professor on the status of his last determining grade, he didn’t hear back for as long as a month.
That’s when the first drop of doubt hit him. This was his last shot. There were no more years of eligibility. Vickers has one year to play one, and hopefully become part of a talented, yet unproven wide receiver corps in 2018.
Then finally, two weeks ago, the email hit his inbox.
“It was a lovely feeling,” Vickers said. “It was like, ‘It’s here. I get to go play at Utah.’”
Vickers hasn’t even been in Utah a week. He arrived last Saturday. But the coaching staff expects him to be in the rotation somewhere once he gets up to speed. A two-time first-team JC All-American, he was recruited to Utah as a jack-of-all-trades, potentially a slot receiver, potentially a running back, likely a threat in the return game.
“He’s a big-play guy, I can tell you that,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who on Thursday said the Utes will petition to the NCAA to restore a year of Vickers' eligibility. “Watch his junior college tape, and you can figure that out pretty quickly. We’ll find a niche for him and a role. Right now, it’s just a matter of getting him up to speed.”
Taylor said he handed Vickers the playbook Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before Utah’s preseason camp kicked off. It will take time, Utah’s OC said. It does with all newcomers.
“For the new guys, it’s kind of like their heads are spinning,” Taylor said, “but he did a good job. He’s very fast-twitch, competitive, he seems to have a good football sense and IQ. And he caught the ball well.”
Vickers expects to have the general gist of the offense down by the end of the weekend. He’s known the ins-and-outs for a while. He tuned into Taylor’s OC debut a season ago. It’s why, in an interview shortly after committing in February 2017, he said this was what attracted him to Utah: Taylor’s spread-it-around approach that is tailored to his skill-set.
“I’ll be able to pick it up,” he said. “It actually fits me. This is the perfect spot for me. That’s why I picked it. Anywhere they put me, anywhere they need me, that’s where I’ll play.”
Utah’s newest receiver no longer has to worry about how to answer those questions that flooded his phone for 18 months. Vickers is finally on campus, in a jersey (he’s No. 17), on the field running routes and prodding teammates for advice. After the first day of camp, Vickers stood on the north side of the practice facility with his fellow receivers waiting for JUGS machine to let loose a football. It was a moment he longed for every day.
“I just couldn’t wait to get here,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get things done and I just kept pushing, kept pushing, and now I’m here.”
And he’s determined to make the most of it. Because the next four months — maybe more — are it.