For three years Brandon Pate stood, stood and stood on the sidelines of Taylor Field.
Now the senior at Harrisburg High School is standing out as a key component for the Bulldogs as they prepare to take on Herrin High School Saturday in the first round of the Class 4A IHSA Football Playoffs at 1 p.m.
Pate is a player who didn't see the field much as a freshmen, sophomore or junior. However, that didn't diminish Pate's taste or love for the game. If anything it made him more hungry.
Pate took it upon himself to put in the necessary time, effort and energy in the offseason and to prove to himself that he had the makeup to play for one of southern Illinois' proudest football programs.
And if Pate is looking for any confirmation for his handwork, anyone would be hard pressed to find a better compliment handed out by Jason Roper than the one the Harrisburg head coach gave Pate Monday at his press conference.
"In my seven years as a head coach, Brandon has to be the hands down winner when he comes to someone who has shown the most improvement in our program,"Roper said.
The secret to Pate's success this year as someone who plays down on the defensive line, plays defensive end, plays inside linebacker and is basically asked to be a jack of all trades on Roper's staunch defense isn't really a secret to those that are the most familiar with the program.
He's worked his tail off," assistant coach Greg Langley said. "Not just this season —this all started last winter in the weight room, the lifting, the running, the things he had to do make himself stronger and more athletic and when you put time in like he has, things pay off and it has paid off for him this season."
Roper echoed many of Langley's comments, but said that Pate's maturity has allowed him to be a consistent part of Harrisburg's defense that heading into Saturday's game is giving up just 16.8 points per game.
Harrisburg is +8 on defense in turnovers, recovering 10 fumbles, while losing nine and have just thrown two interceptions.
The Bulldogs have picked off nine as a team and Pate has two interceptions, joining Logan Hartley and Cooper Thompson. Dakota Upchurch, Capel Henshaw and Justin Younger all have one.
"Brandon can run, jump and his strength has really improved this year," Roper said.
"He's a guy that has to be able to cover people and do multiple things on defense. He's also one of the main reasons our defense is better. He's been able to adjust to a lot of different formations and sets. Truth be told, a lot of what we do on defense starts with him."
Page 2 of 2 - In the offseason, Pate took to the weight room on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, lifting for what he said was an hour and a half to two hours a day. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior ran on Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and while he's content with his own personal gains and success, he's even happier for the position Harrisburg is in heading into this weekend's post season play.
"We've done a lot this year," he said. "We just want to win, that's the biggest thing. We wanted a conference championship and we got that. Now, we'd like to get a playoff win, so that's what we are aiming for heading into Saturday."
Pate believes the thing that sets his team's defense apart from the other clubs is not just his persistence and dedication in the weight room, but the group as a whole.
"We're probably stronger than most teams and we're one of the more physical teams. We like to hit, we really do."
Michael Dann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.