Derrick Portis finally got his taste of a championship game experience on the football field – playing for Michigan's Ferris State University in the NCAA Division II National Championship on Dec. 15.
And the Class of 2015 Lompoc High grad and the Bulldogs were a two-point conversion play away from sending the game into overtime, and pulling off the win over Valdosta State down in McKinney, Texas.
Unfortunately, Portis and the Bulldogs fell in the climatic 49-47 loss at McKinney Independent School District Stadium. But Portis returned to Lompoc High’s Huyck Stadium all smiles last Thursday night; realizing what he just experienced and bringing memories back home with him.
“It was like no other,” Portis said in reminiscing on the game. “I’ve never been in an atmosphere like that. You could just feel it. It was crazy. For sure, the biggest game of my life and the biggest game for the other players.”
Before suiting up for Ferris State, Portis shared rushing duties with quarterback Torey Sims and a young Toa Taua for the Braves. Portis ended his senior campaign with 1,054 yards and 14 touchdowns according to Max Preps.
Portis then endured quite the journey for someone experiencing the college life. He first signed with Upper Iowa University, the four-year university alma mater of Braves head coach Andrew Jones. But Portis said he wasn’t buying into the strict structure that was implemented at UIU and decided a change was needed.
At Ferris State, in Big Rapids, Michigan, he had coaches who not only placed an emphasis on a lot of one-on-one time with players, but would also be a part of group texts or FaceTime through the phone with Portis outside of the football field — giving Portis a more positive vibe when walking around the campus.
That structure got Portis to immediately buy into the vision the Bulldogs had — which ultimately led to their 15-1 mark this past season.
“I believed in the team,” Portis said. “We played against the No. 1 defense before (in the playoffs) and I felt this team (Valdosta State) would be a hard team to play against.”
Right away, Portis saw the offense clicking after one play.
His wide receiver teammate Keyondre Craig torched the Valdosta State defense on an 80-yard reception on the game’s first play from scrimmage. From there, Portis would touch the football five times on offense; collecting 22 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry against the Blazers.
As a unit, the run-oriented Bulldogs accumulated 270 rushing yards and crossed the end zone four times to keep Ferris State in the game.
“Our run game was really working,” Portis said. “I thought the outside zone was working a little more.”
But the Bulldogs found themselves down by 11 twice in the second half. Their late charge with less than a minute left to play came when Sy Barnett scored from five yards out. But on the subsequent play, the Bulldogs’ pass attempt fell incomplete — sealing the national title for the Blazers.
While Portis and his team fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the national title, Portis still leaves his future college alma mater with zero negative thoughts.
“I don’t regret anything about it,” Portis said of his experiences at Ferris State. “I met so many players there and I feel like I’ve got friends for life. I learned a lot from being there. I’ve got to play on a real good team.”
And the Bulldogs may not be the last football team he plays for. Portis concludes he’s not ruling out a professional football try and will look into the NFL, the Canadian Football League (CFL) or the all-new Alliance of American Football which begins play in February 2019.