TUSCOLA — At the top of most swimming pools sits a pesky little creature, not big in size but terribly elusive, zipping across the water from wall to wall.
The bugs are annoying for those trying to catch them, and generally live their lives by going untouched throughout the summer.
On the football field, Brandon Douglas shares those same elusive skills. He stands between 5-foot-7 and 5-8, weighs about 150 pounds and typically finds his way untouched on offense for Tuscola. Douglas has a rare ability to contort his body in ways to get by defenders and sneak into open space, using his acceleration to his advantage. When he found his stride last season, he turned in big play after big play to the tune of 48 catches for 906 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch.
Douglas figured out that he had natural gifts while he was growing up. He spent time with a friend who was a gymnast and learned the art of body contortion that would help him nearly a decade later on the football field. He also taught himself how to backflip, for good measure.
"I just learned naturally that I was flexible and had great body control, then I got out here and found out it transferred over and helps out tremendously on the football field, too," Douglas said.
Once Douglas found out that his flexibility and athleticism worked on the field, he went to work. His quick hips in his routes help him to move unscathed into open space.
"It makes my life so much easier to be able to maneuver around people," Douglas said.
In about Week 6 or Week 7, Tuscola coach Andy Romine saw Douglas starting to put everything together and hit his stride. In the final four games of the regular season, Douglas had 16 catches for 397 yards and three touchdowns.
“Late season we definitely had a lot more confidence than early season me," Douglas said. "I was kind of figuring stuff out and learning stuff that I wasn’t quite sure about. Once me and (former quarterback Luke Sluder) got closer together and I started learning the plays, it just kind of escalated faster than what we intended to. But it was for the greater good."
All the while, Douglas is quick to deflect credit at every turn. The plays he makes on the field are a testament to the coaching staff and his teammates, he said. The athletic gifts come from genetics — Douglas credited his father, Robert Douglas, for his athleticism.
Romine raves about Brandon Douglas and the contribution he can have on the field this year. Douglas' body control is "off the charts" good, Romine said. He's as fast as any player in and out of breaks during routes that Romine has ever had, and would put Douglas in a 60-meter dash against anyone in the Central Illinois conference. Douglas has more blocked punts than anybody in program history, Romine said, noting it was "in the teens."
"He’s got some wiggle to him," Romine said. "He’s really, really good as far as that goes. We’re excited. It’s God-given. His dad could move like that when he was younger, too."
Recently, it's seemed like Tuscola has had one speedy, yet undersized receiver on the team to cause havoc for defenses. Douglas is one in what has turned into a long list of players.
There's a lot of Dalton Hoel in Douglas' game. Hoel, the former standout for Tuscola, was also a short receiver who torched defenses with speed and athleticism. It's no wonder there are similarities: Douglas credited Hoel in his development as a player.
“I’d like to think we develop them, but let’s not kid ourselves — we’ve just been lucky to have some kids like that who enjoy playing football," Romine said. "The goal is, you’ve got to be able to use them a little bit, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to use them a little bit, too, to be effective."
For as much as Romine raves about Douglas' abilities on the field and the potential issues he and fellow receiver Jalen Quinn can cause for defenses this year, Romine is even more vociferous about Douglas off the field. There's a pay-it-forward element to Douglas' game.
He knows Hoel was instrumental in adapting to the varsity game, and Douglas wants to bring younger players along with him. Romine calls it approachability mixed with a work ethic.
“You want your best players to be your hardest workers and he works," Romine said. "He works like a dog on a bone, man. He goes at it."