Vickless shares Brentwood's Mark Reider Award with his father
Justin Vickless remembers the first time he laid eyes on the Mark Reider Award sitting on a shelf in his father's room. From that point on, it was always on his mind.
“Ever since I got to high school, I wanted to win it,” Justin said.
He did just that by being named Brentwood's Mark Reider Award winner for the 2013-14 school year.
Justin and his dad, Mike Vickless, an assistant football and baseball coach at Brentwood, became the first father-son duo to win the award that is given annually to the top male athlete at Brentwood High School.
Justin said if it wasn't for his father, the Mark Reider award recipient in 1985, the presitgious award may not have stayed in the family.
“He's one of the main reasons I won,” Vickless said. “He's always pushed me to be the best in everything I participate in.”
The award was a fitting tribute to one of the finest athletes in school history. Justin earned four varsity letters in football, three in baseball and two apiece in basketball and track and field.
It was on the gridiron where Vickless shined the brightest, rushing for 3,191 yards and 47 touchdowns in his career.
A severe knee injury limited his output and shot at joining the WPIAL's elite 4,000-yard rushing club. Vickless managed to play in only four games last season, rushing for 218 yards and three scores.
The Spartans finished 6-5 overall and fell to Neshannock, 40-9, in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
During a non-contact drill on the first day of camp, Vickless suffered a partial tear of his right ACL that didn't bother him much at the time. In fact, he walked home from practice that day.
He received the go-ahead from his doctor to keep playing until it gave out, which it did in Week 5 against Fort Cherry, finishing off a stretch in which the injury became more and more difficult to deal with each week.
The injury was obvious in a Week 1 game against Serra Catholic.
Vickless gained 46 yards and had a touchdown on just three carries. On two of those rushing attempts, he broke away from the defense, only to have his knee give out as he was streaking toward the end zone.
“It just killed me to see the kid get hurt,” said Kevin Kissel, Brentwood's head football coach. “If he didn't get hurt, he was going to touch the ball 25 times a game. Who knows what he could have done?”
Vickless had surgery in the fall, forcing him to miss the basketball and baseball seasons.
“I was upset and stuff, but I didn't really let it get to me that bad,” he said. “I just rehabbed it and tried to get back to 100 percent.”
The Brentwood baseball team slipped to 7-11 overall this season.
“Justin would have been our top pitcher, our leadoff hitter and our shortstop,” said Greg Perdziola, Brentwood's head baseball coach. “Losing him really hurt us.”
Despite the hardships, Vickless' high-school story has a happy ending.
He was able to participate on the Spartans' track and field team, where he threw the javelin. His best toss this season was 150 feet.
Vickless is planning to play football again this fall at Washington & Jefferson College.
Kissel said he has no doubt that his former star will do whatever it takes to get back on the football field.
“Justin is busting his tail and getting ready to play,” Kissel said.
No matter what the future holds, Vickless already has created a legacy for himself at Brentwood.
And while he isn't thinking about it just yet, he someday may want a son of his own to keep the family tradition of winning the Mark Reider Award going.
“That would be sweet,” he said.
Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.