COLUMBIA — Some say Derrick Dilworth performed a miracle when he was 18 years old.
In 2009, Columbia College’s wiry junior guard was the starting quarterback for Webster Groves High School in eastern Missouri. With the pressure mounting at the end of a Class 5 state quarterfinal game against Chaminade, Dilworth came through with arguably Missouri’s greatest prep football moment of the past decade.
Down 29-28 with 6.9 seconds on the clock and the ball on their own 20-yard line, Dilworth and the Statesmen appeared to be finished at Moss Field, their home stadium.
But then the senior quarterback took the shotgun snap, hopped forward and threw the ball as far as he could down the left sideline. The spiraling pigskin floated over a trio of defenders’ outstretched arms before landing softly in the hands of a Statesmen receiver en route to the game-winning 80-yard touchdown.
The “Miracle at Moss,” which propelled the Statesmen to the state title that year, is now legendary in St. Louis football circles, but Dilworth opted to pursue a basketball career after high school, leaving the gridiron behind for a two-year stay at Moberly Area Community College.
Now, three years after his unbelievable throw, Dilworth is parlaying his football skills into success on the court for the Cougars.
“As a quarterback, you see the next play happening,” Dilworth said. “Seeing the floor is in my nature.”
The first-year transfer has started all seven games for Columbia College and is second on the team in points per game (12.0) and steals (14).
“Seeing the floor” has made it easy for him to cut off opposing teams’ passing angles and find open lanes in transition.
“Playing safety, quarterback and point guard, you develop that sense of where everybody is and where the play is heading,” Webster Groves football coach Cliff Ice said.
While he has always outhustled other players on the court, Dilworth credits two severe knee injuries for allowing him to approach the game differently and hone his nose for the ball.
A torn right MCL and meniscus before his senior year of high school — he played through both football and basketball seasons before having surgery — and a torn left ACL during his freshman year of college forced him to slow things down, something that was not easy to do.
“I was hesitant,” Dilworth said of his physical abilities after returning from six months of grueling rehabilitation, “and my game had changed dramatically.”
He eventually returned to full strength, but the mental aspects of the game had been refined while watching the game from the sidelines.
Now, Dilworth is a dominant new force for a Columbia College team that is looking for its third straight American Midwest Conference championship.
At 6-feet-4-inches and 180 pounds, Dilworth is lengthy yet pliable — “He looks like he could get broke in half,” Ice said — making quick cuts and slippery drives to thwart countless opponents’ attempts to guard him.
“Derrick is very bouncy and agile on his feet,” senior center Hal Payne said. “Many of our guards don’t play the same way that he does.”
While Dilworth’s long road to recovery might not be as astounding as his famous last-second heave against Chaminade, it’s undoubtedly impressive.
People might even start using the word "miracle" if he can lead the undefeated Cougars to their first ever National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship this season.
“Hopefully, there are no miracles,” Dilworth said, “We’ve got a lot of potential.”