Sept. 1, 2010

Watch Grand Valley St. vs. West Texas A&M (Thurs. 8pm ET)

By Amy Farnum

And, to the victor goes the spoils… and in world of Division II football, that refers to Grand Valley State senior inside linebacker Justin Victor.

The Lakers traditionally field one of the top teams in the nation as they are expected to again in 2010.  GVSU is ranked No. 2 nationally with 40 letterwinners and 17 starters from last year’s NCAA runner-up squad and Victor will play a key part of the Lakers’ quest for their first national title since 2006.

Victor grew up near Detroit in Allen Park, Mich., a hard-working, blue collar town of auto workers that prides itself on fielding tough high school football teams.  He was not a highly-recruited prospect, but was interested in the Lakers’ program because a former high school teammate played for GVSU.  Victor fell in love with the campus and scored an academic scholarship, and decided Allendale was the place for him.

“I think the largest football scholarship I was offered was the cost of books (from other schools),” said Victor.  “I was interested in playing Division II football and had visited Grand Valley.  I was lucky enough to get a phone call from them to come here as a preferred walk-on.”  

“There were probably some other people that passed him up based on his size – he’s not super-big – but we liked the way he played football very physically and he was a good athlete,” said first-year head coach Matt Mitchell, who recruited Victor as a GVSU assistant.  “He got an academic scholarship so it was free for (the football program) and a double-bonus.”

Victor redshirted his first season, and played sparingly the next year, but kept watching and learning from the All-Americans in front of him on the depth chart.
“He kept working and willed his way into a starting spot, especially early in his career,” said Mitchell.  “He is one of the most detailed guys in terms of alignments and assignments and watching opponents’ tapes, and none of that has changed even though he is now probably our best defensive player. From the get-go, we saw a square-jawed, steely-eyed, tough, tough kid.  Football is a man’s game and he definitely looked like he was cut out to play it.”

In the spring after his redshirt freshman year, Victor broke through and claimed a coveted starting position in 2008.  He shined in the role, earning All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference First Team honors after contributing 60 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss and four quarterback sacks.

“I had the opportunity to take a lot of reps at inside linebacker, which helped me a lot,” said Victor.  “The coaches have always done a great job of breaking things down in the spring, and that’s contributed a lot to my analysis of the defense now.”

Last year, Victor almost doubled his season total for tackles, leading the squad with 111.  He also increased his tackles for loss (13.5) and sack (6.5) totals after working specifically on his pass-rushing techniques.  

“We zone blitz our linebackers a lot, so we really got him going, and put him on some edges and he turned into a good pass-rusher – both with his hands and his feet,” said Mitchell.  “With his pass-rushing on a guard or a tailback, he wins a lot of those match-ups because of his physicality but also some athleticism, too.”

“(Pass-rushing) is a big part of being an inside linebacker here,” said Victor.  “(The coaches) blitz us constantly especially when we’re in three-down and rush defense packages.  That’s definitely something you need to be successful to play here.  We’d always work on either swimming over or ripping through offensive linemen and I feel like that’s a big part of my game that has helped me be successful.”

After garnering All-GLIAC honors again in 2009, Victor has been recognized as a Preseason All-America First Team selection entering this season, and Mitchell knows he can look to the senior for another great year.

“He’s a complete player,” said Mitchell. “He didn’t come here a complete player, but through his hard work and some hard coaching, he ended up being one.  It was a process and a lot of that had to do with the mental aspects of the game.”  

Grand Valley State’s first test of the season will not be an easy one as the Lakers host No. 8 West Texas A&M for a nationally-televised game on Thurs., Sept. 2.  The contest will be broadcast on CBS College Sports at 8 p.m. ET.  

“If I sat back and thought about national TV and probably 15,000 people and a Top 25 team, I’d probably jump out the window,” said Mitchell.  “For me, it’s been about the day-to-day process.  On game day, it’s going to be all about our focus.  The environment is going to be crazy, but we have to focus on the guys lined up across from us.”