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Canyon's Justin Derpic: A different kind of quarterback

Justin Derpic will anchor the defense

Posted: August 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Canyon senior Justin Derpic was a backup to quarterback last year. Now he's the starting middle linebacker. Canyon senior Justin Derpic was a backup to quarterback last year. Now he's the starting middle linebacker.
Canyon senior Justin Derpic was a backup to quarterback last year. Now he's the starting middle linebacker.

Justin Derpic would be the first to tell people he’s not the most athletic player on the field.

Not the fastest runner or the hardest hitter, either.

That’s him talking about himself.

When you talk to others, the sentiment is a little different on the Canyon senior.

“He won’t give himself too much credit, but he’s one of the more athletic people I’ve ever met,” says teammate Matt Davis.

Derpic must be doing something right. He earned himself the starting spot at middle linebacker for Canyon this season — no small task.

Cowboys head coach Rich Gutierrez says he had plenty of reasons for naming him the starter of one of the most important positions on defense a year after Derpic played backup quarterback.

“His character is untouchable,” Gutierrez says. “He’s just a great kid. I lean on him a lot.”

But Derpic has his own theories for how he got here.

It started last year when he read “Through My Eyes,” an autobiography by NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.

There was one passage in the book that stuck with Derpic.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” the saying goes.

It wasn’t invented by Tebow, but it’s something the Heisman Trophy winner always lived by.

“When I read that I really believed it, and that’s always my mentality,” Derpic says.

There was added motivation for the senior too, given his disappointing junior season.

He was called up to varsity late in the 2010 season, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a playoff game.

His knee still bothered him the following season and limited his play time.

The only time Derpic was on the field was the occasional cleanup duty when last year’s starting quarterback Jonathan Jerozal came out of the game.

There was no complaining from Derpic though. He simply stood back and observed. He learned from Jerozal how to take control of a unit.

In a way, Derpic is still a quarterback, just on the flip side of the ball.

A middle linebacker’s job is to assess the opposing offense and then call out coverage and reads to his teammates.

It made sense to Derpic, who played linebacker for Canyon’s JV and freshman teams and at the youth level.

“He’s a team player. He’ll do whatever it takes to make the team successful and he’ll put the ego aside,” Gutierrez says. “If I ask him to do something, he’ll get the team to do it.”

What Gutierrez did ask him to do was make the transition from quarterback to linebacker, two very different positions at the varsity level.

But when coaches saw how hard Derpic could hit one day during practice, it was time to make a change.

“It took a while to get back to reading the offense and getting back into that mean-guy attitude to be a defensive player, where if you’re a quarterback you just have to step back and you don’t really get hit that much,” Derpic says.

Mean guy probably isn’t the best way to describe his playing style.

It’s more like cerebral and calculated, but he’s certainly qualified for the job.

“He’s always liked defense and he’s, almost in a way, he’s like Tim Tebow,” Davis says. “It’s just the fact that he considers himself a football player first.”

This season, Derpic will lead an entirely new crew of linebackers since all three staring linebackers from last year graduated.

It puts the pressure squarely on Derpic, who will often line up right smack in the middle of the defensive formation.

For a player like him, it’s where he belongs.


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