His senior season, his decorated career were over, coming on the Williams-Brice Stadium field where he’ll soon enough play his college ball. His first important memory competing there, it didn’t sit well.
“This one is the worst one,” Pickens said.
The state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and his squad stayed with powerful Dutch Fork for the first half, but things came apart in the second with a slew of turnovers in a 59-20 loss. Pickens helped the cause early with a pick-six, but a Silver Foxes team aiming for its third title in a row proved too much.
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Still, even as tears streaked down his face, Pickens admitted he was happy to be there on that field.
“It was pretty fun,” Pickens said. “I wouldn’t turn it down for nothing.”
The emotion of the moment didn’t seem to quite hit until after the game. In the closing moments, he moved around the bench, talking with teammates, appearing a little unfazed. But as he helped lead his final high school huddle and said goodbyes with teammates and cheerleaders, he broke in the way almost all seniors do as they realize it’s their last game.
“It hurts a lot,” Pickens said. “I’m not going to lie. I love these boys. I would go to war for them. I’d do anything I can for them.”
His football itinerary won’t let up with this week, however. The No. 18 recruit in the county will play in the Shrine Bowl next week, facing the best players in North Carolina. Then he’ll play in the Under Armour All-America Game in early January before enrolling early.
“Pretty excited about that,” Pickens said. “Working with some new guys, All-American, get to have fun with five stars and four stars, competing. I can’t wait for that.”
He finished Friday night with 40 yards rushing, four tackles, a sack and an interception return for touchdown. The brought his season total to 86 tackles, six sacks and 874 rushing yards, usually not playing in the second halves of games.
He’ll soon enough join the Gamecocks, start trying to find his place on a defensive line set to bring back almost everyone from a line that had its ups and downs this season. He might be counted on, or just work to find his place at one of the most difficult spots to make that transition.
But he’s not trying to do it all at once.
“Just worry about one thing at a time,” Pickens said. “Worry about coming in here, getting the plays down, trying to start my freshman year.”