Even in what is shaping up to be his best statistical season, Elizabeth City State senior Keith Strickland can’t allow himself to pay attention to the numbers.
After three games this season, Strickland, a Rocky Mount High graduate, is on his way to being one of the top five receivers in the CIAA, but he only allows two things to enter his mind: Improving and helping the Vikings win their first game of the season Saturday in the 16th Annual Down East Viking Football Classic.
“I try not to think statistics-wise because we are 0-3,” Strickland said. “I feel like I can always do better, but that’s why I will continue to work hard – to do better than I did last time.”
Strickland will graduate in December with a degree in accounting.
Fayetteville State, which plays the Vikings on Saturday at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, likely has done some numbers crunching on Strickland.
The former Gryphon, who is the Twin Counties’ alltime leading wide receiver, is second in the CIAA this season in touchdowns (4), sixth in yards receiving (244) and second in yards per catch (18.8).
Strickland and first-year starting quarterback Casey Turner seem to have formed a rapport after only three games.
“I’ve worked on my craft a lot, practicing hard, and the offense is sticking together,” Strickland said.
Deflecting praise comes easy for Strickland.
Elizabeth City State coach Waverly Tillar said Strickland is a high-character player who has the respect of his teammates.
“There has always been upside with Keith, and he is at the pinnacle now where he can possibly get some postseason accolades,” Tillar said. “He has grown into his talent.”
Tillar said Strickland is mild-mannered, and that likely will be on display Saturday.
Strickland said that despite having a large number of family and friends in attendance, he will keep focus on the field.
Although memories of playing with the Gryphons will come to mind, nothing can be a distraction.
“I already put it in my mind that I will play and see everyone after,” Strickland said. “When I’m on the field, I just see the field.”
For Strickland, the afternoon will be about sharply performing his routes, playing with tempo.
Most of all, it’s about winning.
“We have to win from here on out,” Strickland said.