Utah's football players usually just lift weights to start their weekly routine, but because the Utes had last weekend off, they took the field Monday afternoon. Coach Kyle Whittingham liked the players' response, saying they returned to practice eagerly.
Senior receiver Derrick Vickers did so angrily.
The flaw of Utah’s schedule, from his perspective, is having to live for two weeks with his lost fumble that delayed the Utes’ comeback in a 33-28 win at Washington. He enjoyed another victory during a rewarding season that stemmed from the NCAA’s giving him an extra year of eligibility, but Vickers has stewed about what happened after his only reception in Seattle.
Washington linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio raked the ball out of his hand as Vickers ran into Husky territory in the third quarter, with the Utes trailing 21-13.
“I've never been a guy to fumble the ball,” Vickers said this week. “When it happened, I was pretty shook in the head. I hadn't fumbled since freakin' what, high school? So coming off it, I just feel like I need to go out there and prove myself and show everybody that's not me.”
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Vickers’ next opportunity will come Saturday night vs. UCLA. That fumble aside, he has become a valuable players this season, illustrating how Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig uses his personnel, creating roles in the scheme. Vickers played in a Wing-T offense at Bakersfield (Calif.) High School, so has the hybrid skills of a running back and receiver.
“You've been exposed to a lot of different players, a lot of different skill sets through the years, and you have a library to draw from,” Ludwig said. “I've worked with players like Derrick Vickers with a unique skill set, and you say, 'I made some mistakes [in not maximizing] the last guy that I'm not going to make with Derrick.' ”
Ludwig sometimes has Vickers line up in the slot, motion into the backfield and take a handoff, as he did on a 7-yard touchdown run vs. Washington State in September. Vickers is fifth on the team with 14 catches for 168 yards and has run 11 times for 53 yards.
That’s a much bigger contribution than outsiders imagined in June, when Utah announced the NCAA has extended Vickers’ eligibility clock, giving him another season to play.
The news release was packaged with the NCAA’s denying quarterback Cameron Rising a waiver for immediate eligibility in transferring from Texas. Due to Rising’s high profile, The Salt Lake Tribune’s headline mentioned only him, and not Vickers.
Five months later, though, Vickers is making a big contribution. “I definitely enjoy what [Ludwig] is doing with the offense,” he said. “I enjoy how he uses me.”
His impact at Utah was a long time in the making. He committed to the Utes from Bakersfield College in February 2017, but didn’t arrive on campus until just before preseason practice started in 2018. What he describes as a mixup about academic requirements delayed his move from the junior college. A knee injury also played into his receiving an extra year of eligibility, after he was thought to have had only the 2018 season available to him.
Vickers' career could have ended after the Holiday Bowl in December, concluding a year when he appeared in five games, returning four kickoffs but making no receptions. He went through spring practice, though, and was thrilled in June when his 2019 season came into view.
So was Ludwig, who's always looking for another offensive weapon. Looking ahead, Ludwig said, “We'll just see who the next Derrick Vickers is.”
But the Utes have to wait until 2033 for Derrick Vickers Jr., who turned 4 in August and lives in Bakersfield. Derrick Vickers Sr. will graduate from Utah in December and has NFL aspirations, while trying to make the most of his bonus opportunity to play in 2019.