BRANDON — Cyrus Dooley takes the handoff, slipping between the tackle and guard.
He easily shreds an arm tackle, squares up on a linebacker and spins away while losing his balance. Before going down, Dooley rights himself by placing his free hand on the ground to lunge for another few steps.
The 5-yard gain hardly defines all Dooley endured on the play, but it speaks to his tenacity.
"I just keep moving," he said. "Trying to fight."
If only life proved as easy as running the football.
Despite a tumultuous childhood, Dooley has brushed off life's oncoming troubles like he has tacklers. After struggling with grades, the grind of varsity football and a lack of playing time early in the season, the junior fullback has turned the past month into his personal coming-out party.
"I'm a guy who went from struggling (to play) on this football team to being a leader," Dooley said. "And now it's time to step up."
Dooley's rise up the Eagles' depth chart has coincided with the team's late-season playoff push that earned Brandon a spot in Friday's Class 7A region quarterfinals at Tampa Bay Tech. Dooley barely touched the ball for the first four games, but since posting 149 yards against Newsome on Oct. 6, he has gained 100 yards in every game but one.
"Early on he was sharing time and in the mix," coach John Lima said. "But he's earned reps recently because of the work he's put in."
Dooley — a fan favorite due to his bruising style — had to cut his teeth with the coaching staff. A youth football star, he struggled with making the jump to varsity.
"We run a lot on Mondays, and there were days he wasn't there or didn't get to class," Lima said. "Maybe the play would be to the right, and he would go left. He just wasn't putting in the work."
Dooley would be the first to agree with his coach. Part of that stemmed from a less-than-ideal home life. Throughout middle school and into his career at Brandon, Dooley bounced around from one foster home to another.
"I would miss a lot of class," Dooley said. "And when I did go, I wouldn't behave the right way."
Lima saw the talent, but also realized Dooley had a long way to go in order to fit into the Eagles' plans.
"He was a great (youth football) player, and sometimes you can just get by because you are physically more talented than the others," he said. "There's definitely a transition, and some things we require here."
Partially because of his difficult upbringing, Dooley said he failed seventh grade. When he got to Brandon, Dooley's unsettled lifestyle translated to the football field, especially in Lima's structured program.
"Offseason (training) is required for all varsity players here," Lima said. "It wasn't that he couldn't or wouldn't do these extra things, but it was all new to him."
Dooley finally recognized the opportunity, like a running back who sees a hole open up. His talent was undeniable, and the kid from the broken home knew he had two choices — break down or break tackles.
"I just had to start dedicating myself," Dooley said. "I came to realize that there was no reason I couldn't be a 1,000-yard rusher, and once I got my opportunity, I took it."
In each of the past three games, Dooley has topped the 100-yard mark. Asked about his thoughts on his running style, Dooley doesn't blink.
"Mike Alstott," Dooley said of the former Buccaneer he shares the jersey number 40 with. "He was my idol growing up, and I wanted to be like him."
Like Alstott, Dooley is built for running through tackles, but much like the former Buc fullback, he's nimble enough to hurdle defenders and sift through piles.
"Cyrus is surprisingly light on his feet," Lima said.
With top running back Tyrell Garner likely sidelined against TBT, the kid who struggled to get a touch in the beginning of the season likely will handle the bulk of Friday's workload.
"I know my teammates are counting on me, and I want to be that leader," Dooley said. "My family life is back to where I want it, and all (the past) has done is provided me motivation. Right now, it's all good."
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.