Not many linebackers would look up to a running back as their football role model. But Nova linebacker Malik Ricketts does.
He holds Minnesota Vikings rusher Adrian Peterson in high regard, but not because of his skills as a running back -- even though he acknowledges his talent. It's something else that captured Ricketts' attention.
"I want to be who he is, not as a running back, but as a leader," Ricketts said. "I want to be someone who carries the team and leads the team to victory. I want to be someone that pushes you to do better."
And that will be the role the senior middle linebacker takes this season with his defense, and he relishes the opportunity to carry the weight of leadership on this team.
Unlike some who are thrust into a leadership role due to seniority, Ricketts was more than eager to take on added responsibility.
"A lot of people looked up to me and the leadership role kind of blended in with who I am," he said. "No one else picked up the role so I had to pick it up myself."
As the team's mike linebacker, the quarterback of the defense, Nova head coach Bill Hobbs has been impressed with the way Ricketts has approached his leadership role -- a must for a player at that position.
"He's our anchor, he has to be," Hobbs said. "He's knows he's supposed to be in that role and he's prepared himself to be that person. He was willing to step up as a leader and everyone recognized that."
After starting out at Nova at the junior varsity level for two years before making the jump to varsity as a junior, he is now working hard to change the team's direction, particularly with the culture of the team.
Not only does he want his defense to perform well on the field, he also wants to develop a strong team bond that he believes is necessary to be successful in football and life.
"Football is a team sport so we should be more of a family and play more as a group," Ricketts said. "These are my brothers and we push each other as brothers. We all have great potential and we have to push each other to get there, to run faster, to hit harder. All eyes are on us because we are the underdogs."
As underdogs coming off a 4-6 season, Ricketts wants to prove that Nova can compete in a competitive district that includes powerhouses Plantation and defending Class 7A state champion St. Thomas Aquinas.
The rigorous district schedule doesn't deter his confidence, believing that the Titans' defense can go up against anyone at anytime.
"We believe our defense can be one of the best in Broward county," Ricketts said. "We can shut down the run and with the defensive backs coming back we know we can shut down the pass... we're a very strong defense."
Hobbs added: "Malik is surrounded by a great group of kids, especially on the defensive end."
After growing up playing mostly defensive and offensive line, Ricketts slimmed down and is now a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacke. He has learned to push himself to the best of his abilities and is focusing on shutting out negative influences as he prepares for his final season at Nova.
"I want to stop listening to outside voices and listen to myself," Ricketts said. "I'm the only one who can achieve my dreams and I'm going to work hard every day to get there."