Tyrell Vinson plays with a heavy heart.
The Merced College sophomore uses football as a distraction and a reminder.
Vinson's older brother Darius Sutton was shot and killed over the summer at the age of 23.
Vinson said that football helps take away the pain for a while but it also serves as a reminder of the life his brother won't get to live.
"We were very close," Vinson said. "I feel like he's out there watching me when we play, so I try to go out and perform.
"Coming into the season, I always thought about it. I'm just focused on trying to make something of my life, so he'll be proud of me."
So far, so good.
Merced College coach Bob Casey said Vinson has always been a workhorse. His brother's death just sped along the growing up process.
The results are evident, on and off of the field.
His team-high 632 receiving yards rank fifth in Northern California and his 90.3 yards per game and 18.6 yards per catch rank ninth.
Vinson has been a game changer on special teams as well. His 25.5-yard kick return average has routinely given the Blue Devils excellent field position.
"He's immensely more mature and focused," Casey said. "He doesn't have the approach of waiting for things happen. He's going to make them happen.
"He always took football seriously, but now there's an added focus of using it as an avenue for getting where he wants to go."
At 6-feet tall and 185 pounds, Vinson gives quarterback Trevor Mew a versatile target. His speed allows him to stretch the field, but he also has enough size to do the dirty work across the middle.
It should be a very appealing combination for four-year schools.
"All of our receivers are like that," Casey said. "It's one of the reasons we're so deep there.
"They have the speed to give you trouble, but also aren't afraid to go up and take a hit."
Vinson has been at his best when his team has needed it most.
He caught six balls for a career-high 202 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 loss to Chabot last week, including a 63-yard screen pass for a score that got MC back in the game late. The bulk of the damage came after fellow receiver Jarrell Davis was knocked out of the game with a back injury.
"Coach gave me that look like it was go time, so I knew I needed to make a play," Vinson said. "As soon as I caught the screen I knew if I pressed hard to the middle and then broke to the outside, I'd be gone."
With Davis' status uncertain for Saturday, Vinson may need to give a similar effort against a stout Reedley defense. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Reedley.
Like the Blue Devils (0-1 Golden Gate Conference 2-5), the Tigers (1-5) have struggled with consistency.
The defense has done enough to keep them in games, but the offense has averaged less than 20 points per game.
Casey is hoping that Reedley's issues continue for at least one more week.
"There's no doubt they have players," Casey said. "Guys that can make plays and run to the ball. I think they've just had some guys that have under performed. If we don't take care of the ball, they could break out."