CHEYENNE – Life has a way of putting people where they belong, not where they want to be.
Such was the case for Julian Vigil and the defensive line.
The Cheyenne East senior played some running back, tight end and linebacker when he first started playing tackle football as a youngster. Then, one year, he stepped on the scale at the league’s weigh-ins and was over the weight limit for those positions.
He played defensive line that fall and liked it, but he still hoped he could find his way back to a more glamorous position the next season.
“I was over the weight limit the next year, too,” Vigil said. “I had always been fighting that weight limit, but I decided to stop worrying about it when I was in sixth or seventh grade.
“I learned to really like playing D-line. You don’t have as many things to worry about as linebackers. You can kind of just come out of your stance and go.”
As a defensive tackle, Vigil was a forced to be reckoned with during Saturday’s Wyoming Class 4A state championship game.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder tallied 13 tackles (three solo, one for loss) to help the Thunderbirds beat Thunder Basin, 29-15, to avenge their lone loss of the season. Those efforts also earned Vigil Prep Athlete of the Week honors from WyoSports’ Cheyenne staff.
“He is a special defensive lineman,” East coach Chad Goff said. “He gets off the ball quick, he has great hands and is good at shedding linemen’s hands off of him. He has great moves, where he can rip through or swim over, depending on the angle he’s taking.
“He’s also good at shooting through double-teams by making himself skinny. He really understands that concept, does a great job with it, and makes himself really hard to block.”
Vigil knew sustained winds north of 50 miles per hour were going to force both teams to keep the ball on the ground Saturday, giving him plenty of opportunities to make tackles. However, the Bolts’ offensive line did a good job of tying up East’s defensive line and letting running back Jaxon Pikula get to the second level, where East’s linebackers and safeties had to make tackles.
East adjusted its front in the second half, and that unit started getting into the backfield often.
“We wanted to show them a different look and keep them from getting the gaps they wanted,” said Vigil, who earned all-state honors as a junior. “Switching from a three-man front to a four-man front took a double-team off me. It was much easier for me to get past one player instead of two.”
Vigil entered the state championship ranked third in Class 4A in defensive points per game. Those rankings are dominated by linebackers and defensive backs, so Vigil sitting as high as he does speaks to his impact, Goff said.
“He’s more than just a great tackler,” the coach said. “He has a good amount of pass blocks, he had a lot of fumble recoveries last year, he has gotten sacks, and he had an interception return for a touchdown this year. He also has blocked kicks.
“He covers the gamut on defense. You name it, and he has a stat in almost every category.”
Vigil credits his teammates for helping him put together two of the best seasons by a defensive lineman in the state in recent memory.
“We got together as linemen after summer weights, and we worked on one-on-ones, techniques, spins, swims and rips,” Vigil said. “It takes a long time to perfect those things, and we worked hard to get better.”
Vigil has scholarship offers from three colleges, and is talking to coaches from several more. He expects to play football at the next level, where his weight will be a topic of conversation again. This time, he will have to pack on pounds.
“I’ll probably have to get up to 230 or 240,” Vigil said. “That shouldn’t be a problem, if I put my mind to it.”
Others recognized for their efforts include:
– Keagan Bartlett, football, East: The sophomore outside linebacker posted nine tackles (four solo, one for loss) and a pass breakup during the state title game.
– Trey Bower, football, East: The senior inside linebacker had 15 tackles (five solo) during the T-Birds’ state championship victory over Thunder Basin.
– Graedyn Buell, football, East: The senior quarterback rushed for 235 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries in the state championship game. He also completed 7 of 12 passes for 76 yards.
– Gavin Goff, football, East: The junior safety recorded 10 tackles (four solo) against Thunder Basin.
– Jackson Hesford, football, East: The senior safety had 10 tackles (three solo) in the state championship.