Deerfield linebacker Austin Cain is hoping to have a monster senior season for the Knights after a summer where he caught the eyes of college recruiters. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Deerfield-Windsor linebacker Austin Cain watched as North Florida Christian star running back and Florida State commit Jonathan Vickers strutted around the field last season during the teams’ Aug. 30 matchup.
“He was carrying himself like he was the top guy on the field,” Cain said, “and I wasn’t a big fan of that.”
“It was probably the hardest I have ever hit anybody,” Cain said about his open field tackle on the Seminoles’ prized recruit during last year’s game. “That was probably the sole reason my game improved last year. It boosted my confidence to know that if I can play with a guy who is going to Florida State then I should be flying around the field with anybody else.”
The senior inside linebacker has flown right into the spotlight at Deerfield, where he has taken over as the leader on defense and has developed into one of the hardest hitters in Southwest Georgia.
He grew two inches during the offseason, muscled up in the weight room and got faster. Knights coach Allen Lowe said he has “blossomed and has a chance to really shine this season.”
“He’s always been a good football player, but now God has blessed him with a few more inches, which has given him the potential to take it to the next level,” Lowe said.
Cain started all of last season at outside linebacker and was named to the GISA All-Region 1-AAA team. Over the summer he attended several recruiting camps at area colleges and was named the MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine in Albany.
“I feel like I’m a whole new player,” he said. “Last year I was a little timid at the beginning of the season, but coming out here now and knowing I have to be a leader builds a lot of confidence.”
Senior teammate Aaron McNutt called Cain the motivator on a team that is trying to bounce back from an 8-5 season that was abruptly ended with a shutout loss to Stratford Academy in the GISA Class AAA state semifinals.
“He’s a heck of a leader,” McNutt said. “He’s a great guy all around and the first one to get everybody hyped up when practice is tough and everybody is down on themselves. He’s the first one to pick us up and puts the team on his back.”
During a team practice Monday evening, Cain directed his fellow defenders from his middle linebacker position before the ball was snapped. When the second unit took the field, Cain stood next to his coaches in the secondary and helped his younger teammates.
“I just try to make others around me better,” he said. “If I am giving 110 percent, the younger guys are seeing that and will go hard, too. As a leader people look up to you. If you are half-tailing it, they will do the same thing.”
Cain said he tries to set the tone at practice.
“I try to keep my head up even on the days where I’m not feeling it,” Cain said. “These two-a-day practices can be a big deal, especially for the young guys who have never done it before because you are sore, tired and don’t really want to be here. But I just put a smile on my face and go hard every play.”
He has garnered interest from colleges like Georgia Tech and Reinhardt University this summer and was asked by Yale and Harvard to send a highlight film from his first three games this season.
Deerfield’s first two games are in Florida against Tallahassee schools Maclay and perennial power North Florida Christian before the Knights host Southwest Georgia Academy.
“North Florida Christian has a receiver who is already committed to Georgia Tech, so I know they will be watching that game,” Cain said. “I will have to go out banging early.”
And that shouldn’t be a problem, Lowe said.
“When you watch him on film, he never loses the momentum battle when he tackles,” Lowe said. “The runner always goes backwards, and that’s something you can’t coach. He has that in his hips, and now that he’s added more weight and more speed he will have more of those types of tackles.”
More of the the tackles that Vickers knows all too well.
“Ya know, Vickers is pretty good,” Lowe said. “And Austin just took him down.”