Brentwood, Vickless adjust to season-ending injury

Justin Vickless, at left, and the senior members of the Brentwood football team pose for a photo following their final home game at Brentwood Stadium.
Justin Vickless, at left, and the senior members of the Brentwood football team pose for a photo following their final home game at Brentwood Stadium.
Photo by jeff healy | for the south hills record
| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Justin Vickless has collected 3,479 all-purpose yards and scored a school-record 53 touchdowns in his four-year varsity football career at Brentwood.

But his biggest contribution this year was knowing when to call it quits and undergo season-ending surgery on a torn ACL he'd been playing with since the first day of camp.

“I just called it quits because I felt like I was hurting the team more than helping them,” said Vickless, a 5-foot 9, 170-pound senior running back.

Vickless suffered a slight tear during the first practice, but initially the injury wasn't thought to be that serious.

“We didn't think it was anything that big,” Vickless said. “(The doctors) thought it was maybe a meniscus.”

The Spartans' worst fears were confirmed when an MRI later showed damage to the ligament most responsible for stabilizing and cutting.

“It was a big shock to our team,” Kevin Kissel, Brentwood's head coach, said. “Coming into this year, he was a big, big part of our team. We designed our offense around him.”

It was for that reason that the feisty senior didn't go down without a fight. Vickless played sparingly through the first five games, completely tearing his ligament in Week 4 against Fort Cherry.

“I knew he was a tough kid just the way he played the last few years, but to see him fight through this injury, he's unbelievably tough,” Kissel said. “He'd go as long as he could, and then he'd just go down.”

It was after a 47-21 win over Chartiers-Houston in Week 5 that Vickless decided to have season-ending surgery, but his impact was evident.

“If you see your best player playing with a torn ACL and it doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will,” said Jeremy Cenci, a senior lineman on the team. “We still consider him a leader.”

Battling through such adversity was tough at first, but Vickless and his teammates used the injury as a rallying cry.

“The kids didn't really know how to react,” Kissel said. “After they realized we weren't going to have Justin, they regrouped and took it upon themselves.”

Kissel points to junior quarterback Connor McWilliams and sophomore running back Pat Carr as examples of players who have stepped up their game since Vickless went down.

“The kids rallied around it,” Kissel said. “They picked it up.”

The Spartans (6-4, 6-3) qualified for the WPIAL playoffs all four years Vickless was toting the ball, which is a credit to his impact on the program.

“I still think he's one of the top two or three players I've ever had,” said Kissel, who has been Brentwood's field boss for 17 years. “His legacy is going to be there.”

Along with football, Vickless also plays baseball and basketball and competes in track and field. He carries a 3.5 GPA in the classroom.

Through relentless rehab, Vickless hopes to be back in the lineup in time for baseball season. He is a center fielder, shortstop and pitcher for the Spartans.

Heading into the 2013-14 school year, Vickless was receiving recruiting interest from Duquesne, Richmond, Princeton, Lafayette and Lehigh. Even though the recruiting chatter has quelled, Vickless plans to be suiting up again in August.

“I'm going to play football, I just don't know where yet,” he said. “I'll be all right.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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