As a running back, Towson's Darius Victor has had more than his fair share of big hits and brutal tackles. It's the one-armed and shoestring tackles that infuriate him the most.
"I've been tackled so much in life that I'm immune to the hits that look heavy," he said after a recent practice last week. "It's the ones that you think you've got the green light [for a big gain] and someone trips you up, those are the ones that hurt. That's how I feel. I'm like, 'Ahhhh, what are you doing? Why did you fall?' Those are the ones that really hurt the most."
But Victor has been dishing out the pain as much as he absorbs it. At 5 feet 8 inches and 227 pounds, the junior — who is called by his middle name, Vito, an homage to the Vito Corleone character in the novel and film "The Godfather" — is a load to bring down.
At last week's practice, Victor wore a red non-contact jersey because he hurt his neck during practice the previous week and injured a teammate trying to make a tackle. Tigers coach Rob Ambrose, who grew up in Chicago, likened Victor to one of Ambrose's boyhood role models, the Bears' Walter Payton.
"Walter Payton's a guy who coined the phrase 'violent sideline running,' where if you were going to hit him, he was going to hit you and make you pay for hitting him," Ambrose said. "Darius Victor is the only person I've ever met in my life who ran the football and knocked out two opposing players in the same game. Terrance [West, a former Towson running back now with the Cleveland Browns[ was tough to tackle, but he never did that. And truth be told, Vito's a better pass blocker — better in scheme and he's physically better. He's one of the few players that I have ever seen, coached or played against that I really would not want to hit or get hit by."
Succeeding West, who set NCAA Football Championship Subdivision records in rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) in 2013, was supposed to be difficult, but Victor fared well in his first season as Towson's starting running back.
Victor led the Colonial Athletic Association in rushing with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries en route to earning conference first-team honors. He was one of 22 players and only one of six non-seniors nominated in July to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch.
Where West ran behind a veteran offensive line that included five seniors who started in the team's FCS championship game against North Dakota State, Victor's numbers were accomplished behind a front that started seven different sets of linemen.
Running backs coach Dassin Blackwell declined to say which performance was more impressive.
"To me, what they both have done is remarkable," said Blackwell, who is in his sixth year with the Tigers. "What Terrance did for us from 2011 to 2013 was phenomenal. What Darius has started to do for this program is, he is the face of what we like to put out there for all the young kids. … Terrance came in with a totally different kind of skill set. So what they both have done has been awesome, and the fact that we had them both together was a blessing in disguise."
Victor accounted for 66.5 percent of the Tigers' rushing output, 37.5 percent of their total yardage and 37.3 percent of their scoring. With redshirt senior Connor Frazier and redshirt freshman Ellis Knudson battling to open Saturday's season opener at East Carolina as the starting quarterback, the offense would seem ready to again rely heavily on Victor.
But Victor shrugged off that burden.
"I feel like with the team that we have, it's going to be much easier to get those yards because we're going to be a lot better," he said. "There's going to be a lot more help all across the board. So it's not a burden at all. Actually, it's a blessing to have such great teammates and a great offensive coordinator who will make things a little easier."
As a player who seeks contact, Victor excels at running between the tackles and can accelerate away from pursuers. But he is also patient enough to wait for blocks and cut back if a lane opens.
Redshirt junior fullback Emmanuel Holder said Victor may be even better this season because his grasp of the offense is deeper.
"He's just more mature, older," Holder said. "He knows the offense way better because he has a year under his belt. He knows the ins and outs. He knows what our O-line is going to do before they even do it. So he basically knows what's going to happen before it happens."
Victor is one of the team's "Six Kings," a select group of players who serve as team captains and liaisons between the players, coaches, alumni and fans. Victor is also one of just two student-athletes on the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee.
"It's a huge honor to be looked at as a leader," he said. "It's a blessing, but it comes with a lot of work, too. You have to stay on guys. We're all big kids, we're all grown, and no one wants to be told what to do, but you have to step up for the team. I embrace it."
Victor won't discuss personal numbers he is targeting this fall, but he said he has no reason to expect anything less than what he achieved last fall.
"Why would you lower your standards? If you don't aim too high, you aim too low," he said. "God willing, God has blessed me with this talent, and I'm just out here to do what He made me to do. So I have no reason to not feel confident when I'm playing football."
College football 2015
Get ready for the season with a series of preview stories about local teams:
Saturday: Game advances