Sept. 14, 2011
Derrick Hightower ready to lead
The energy flowing through Derrick Hightower's body was understandably high Saturday in Northwest Missouri State home opener against Sioux Falls.
Hightower, a fifth-year senior, was making his first start at Bearcat Stadium at free safety.
He is another Bearcat example of waiting his turn, working hard and improving to be ready to seize the starting opportunity when it presents itself.
Coaches, current teammates and former players notice those traits. Hightower found that out before the Sioux Falls game.
As Hightower was getting ready for Sioux Falls, former Northwest wide receiver Abe Qaoud pulled him aside and said a few words to Hightower.
Qaoud was a sophomore when Hightower arrived at Northwest in 2007 from Belton High School. By the time Qaoud finished his playing career at Northwest in 2009, Hightower was seeing very limited action.
Hightower played in only three games in '09 and just three games last year.
But the way Hightower carried himself in practice was noticed by the upperclassmen. They sensed that his day would come.
"Abe told me that he and past players were proud of me," Hightower said. "Different people have different success stories. That means something to you. It makes me proud of myself.
"Some start out when they are freshmen like Chad Kilgore or some are like me. I never quit."
Newcomers, who really don't know Hightower's road to starting, can still see the characteristics that have made him one of the captains of the team.
Senior cornerback Derrick Thomas, who transferred from Texas A&M-Kingsville last spring, is impressed how Hightower worked his way up the depth charts to finally becoming a starter.
"It shows he's a patient leader. That's what you need," Thomas said.
When you are in your early 20s, the nearly half decade to move from a redshirt to a starter is a long time.
Oftentimes the long way is the sweetest because of all the obstacles you have to overcome to get to the final destination.
Besides getting stronger in the weight room, Hightower gained knowledge by watching safeties ahead of him. He had two very good ones to watch in Myles Burnsides and Aldwin Foster-Rettig.
"I first learned through Myles," Hightower said. "He wasn't a loud guy. He was calm, but he had a lot of experience. I looked at his form, his technique. After him, I looked at Al. He switched over from strong safety to free safety.
"Now I'm able to play free and strong safety. They were both captains. They told me that this is your secondary now. That meant a lot to me."
Despite the limited action Hightower saw in the previous two seasons, he's already making plays. He has seven tackles in the first two games.
One play stands out for Coach Adam Dorrel. It occurred in the third quarter against Sioux Falls.
"It was a third down play," Dorrel said. "He breaks it up. If he led with his head, it would have been the unprotected head rule and we would have been flagged. It is hard for those guys not to do that. He did a good job of pulling off and he still hit the kid and jarred the ball loose.
"When I saw that I was just as proud as heck for him. We turned the momentum. If we would have given them another three more downs, you never know what might happen."
Only two games into the season, Hightower is hearing a lot of people say good things about the entire defense.
Understandably, there were plenty of questions about how the unit would play after losing nine starters from a year ago.
The thing people are noticing is the speed of the defense. It's something Hightower never thought about at the start of the season.
"When you are playing, you are not looking at everybody's speed. You are just playing," Hightower said. "Even Myles Burnsides said it. He said team speed is looking good. I'm like ‘wow.' Maybe it is not just one person saying it, but a bunch of people."
So far, the defense has erased doubt. They showed the correct response to giving up an early touchdown against Sioux Falls.
"I was just thinking about it after the game," Hightower said. "It was 3-7 and I wasn't even thinking about them scoring a touchdown. I was just playing another down, trying to get a stop. I think that was the mindset we had. Bad things are going to happen. People are going to score touchdowns."
The next four months are going to be very memorable for Hightower. He's a captain and starter for the No. 2 ranked Bearcats. He's scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in Business Technology.
"I made it," Hightower said. "Five long years and I never gave up, never quit. It is one thing I am proud of. I have a strong will."
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