As he walked off the field on Nov. 19, 2016, Derrick Vickers had little reason to believe he was about to embark on a 1,043-day scoring drought.

After scoring 28 touchdowns and winning a state championship in three years of varsity football at Bakersfield High School, Vickers was even more explosive in two seasons at Bakersfield College.

With the Renegades, Vickers accounted for 4,025 yards from scrimmage as a runner, receiver and return man, finding the end zone 33 times while earning First-Team All-American honors twice. He capped a 22-touchdown sophomore season with three scores — two as a receiver, one on a kick return — in his final game at BC in 2016.

Vickers was good enough to land at the University of Utah, where he expected to pick up where he left off. Instead, it would take 149 weeks before he found himself back in the place that had been most familiar to him in his time in Bakersfield.

So on Sept. 28, when Vickers, now a fifth-year senior with the Utes, finally broke through for his first Division I touchdown on a 7-yard run against Washington State, he was overcome by a feeling that never proceeded his previous trips over the goal line.

"Once I got in the end zone, I felt kind of shocked," he said. "I hadn't been there in about three years, so it was kind of a shocking moment for me. But I enjoyed it and I was excited to be back in."

And after enduring a lengthy ordeal that nearly derailed his career, Vickers is finally ready to get back to his explosive ways.

Vickers' time in Salt Lake City nearly ended before it began. He committed to the Utes in February 2017, but a knee injury sustained in his final season at Bakersfield College destroyed any hope of getting on the field that fall.

Even if he'd been healthy enough to play, a "miscalculation" with academic staff at BC left him with an incomplete transcript and ineligible to take classes at Utah, which meant he had to spend that fall out of football, rehabbing in Bakersfield.

Vickers admits he was a bit depressed to find out his dreams would be knocked off course for a year. Luckily, he had an easy source of inspiration.

"I had a son," he said. "That's kind of what inspired me to keep going along. I wanted to work every day to make sure I can take care of him."

The desire to provide for Derrick Jr., who was born to Vickers and girlfriend Ryan Gonzalez in 2015, was a great motivating force for the wideout, who was surrounded by loved ones as he rehabbed his knee and completed his associate degree in criminal justice.

Those tight family ties also made it difficult to depart the only city he'd ever called home. Aside from leaving his son and girlfriend, Vickers also left behind his mom, stepfather, four brothers and numerous other relatives he'd see every week during scheduled Sunday family dinners.

The separation became even harder during a difficult first fall in Salt Lake City. 

While he he'd overcome injuries before — his stellar 2016 season at BC came after he missed all of 2015 with a bad wrist — making the Division I jump proved taxing with a body that wasn't yet at 100 percent. As a result, Vickers was shut down after just five games that produced 78 kick return yards and no offensive touches.

"I wasn't really comfortable where I was," he said. "I couldn't get into the offense like I wanted to."

His resolve once again tested, Vickers got back to work. After being granted a fifth year of eligibility over the summer, he spent the ensuing months improving his conditioning and working with new Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to grasp the intricacies of his system.

Though his production has been modest so far — eight receptions for 82 yards, six carries for 45 through five games — Vickers has seen his role increase week-by-week, with the long-awaited touchdown proving to be the highlight of a career that finally appears to be back on track.

Vickers' story was a familiar one to Ken Calvin, who also thrived at both Bakersfield High School and College, only to have his Division I aspirations halted when a coaching change cost him a scholarship to San Jose State.

Calvin, who went on to play at Division II Ouachita Baptist (Ark.) University, returned to Bakersfield at the end of his playing career and has taken on a mentorship role to athletes whose stories have gone a variety of ways, both good and bad, in the face of adversity.

Vickers, who Calvin calls "one of the best players and best people I've ever seen," has gone a route that has Calvin brimming with pride.

"You have a lot of different paths to follow," said Calvin, who currently serves as a color commentator for BC football broadcasts. "And he chose the pull of football to take him the direction he wanted to go.

"He used the game to find a way to make himself successful and tuned out the negative stereotypes associated with young black men in the city and found a way to finish."

His resolve has also impressed family members like cousin DeJon Ford, a high school and college teammate of Calvin, who was instrumental in helping Vickers stay on track mentally throughout his recent struggles.

"He's just grown as an individual and understands things might not come when you want them to," Ford said. "But if you work and have patience, eventually they will."

Vickers has found his groove off the field as well. He still has regular contact with his extended family, and speaks with Derrick Jr. multiple times a day on his iPad. He's also found success in the classroom, having earned his bachelor's degree in sociology, which he hopes to turn into a career as a juvenile counselor.

Those aspirations, however, are on hold for the time being.

Having gained just 127 yards of offense at the D-I level, Vickers likely isn't on a lot of NFL radars. But he isn't ready to curtail his dream of playing at the next level, believing he has the explosiveness to contribute to the Utah offense going forward. 

With limited time — seven regular season games plus the postseason — to put a good showing on tape, Vickers knows he is facing a stiff challenge in catching the attention of professional scouts.

Unsurprisingly, it's a challenge he's ready to take head on.

"I've always seen myself playing at the top level of football," he said. "I'm ready to take on any battle. I've taken on way harder battles than this. If I keep getting my opportunities, I think I'll keep getting better and better."

Coming off a bye, Vickers and 17th-ranked Utah return to action against Oregon State next Saturday.

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