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The position of free safety can be a lonely spot on the football field, especially if the defender in question gets burned on a long run or pass.
But when the last man standing in the defensive backfield makes a big play, friends are easy to come by. During Carmel’s 6-3 loss to visiting St. Patrick in double overtime Friday night, senior safety Derrick McLean indeed was a popular guy with his fellow Corsairs.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound safety killed a Shamrocks’ scoring threat on the opening drive of the game, intercepting a pass on a 3rd-and-goal play from the Carmel 9-yard line. On St. Patrick’s next series, McLean recovered a fumble at the Carmel 34 to thwart another drive.
Then, with the score still knotted at 0-0, McLean nearly nabbed his second pick when he broke up a pass near the Corsairs’ goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter. Two plays later, St. Patrick was forced to punt.
After coming up with each turnover, McLean certainly wasn’t looking for somewhere to hide.
“You make a good play, and everyone’s there to see it,” said McLean, who also is a sprinter on the Carmel boys track team. “I love it — it’s one more play that helps turn a game around. The feeling you get … it’s an inner happiness. You’re happy that your hard work is paying off.”
No doubt, Corsairs coach Andy Bitto was paying attention Friday night.
“Those two turnovers were big plays to keep (St. Patrick) out of the end zone,” Bitto said afterward. “Derrick is better run player than he is a pass defender, but tonight was a nice little bump for him as far as the passing game.”
Carmel safeties coach Mike Fitzgibbons was watching closely as well.
“He got himself in the right place at the right time (on the turnovers),” Fitzgibbons said. “When Derrick’s reading his keys, he’s a very good player, and he proved that tonight. He’s our only senior safety. He creates the tempo, and the other kids follow.”
McLean remembers when he was the one doing the following.
“Sophomore year, I fumbled a punt and it cost us the game — and I cried like a little baby,” he said. “But looking back, if you make a mistake, you have to put it behind you. When you see a teammate make a bad play, you have to tell them, ‘Don’t let it bother you. You’ll learn from it, and next time you’ll make a good one.’ ”
That’s sage advice, coming from someone who knows the ups and downs — and the moments of isolation — that goes with being the lone ranger on the gridiron.