Wilkins brings running back's knowledge to linebacker position
Given a choice whether to play running back or linebacker, most high school football players would opt for the touchdowns and glory of the offensive side of the ball. Not Missouri signee Cameron Wilkins.
Wilkins began his career at Del Valle High School as a linebacker, but as a sophomore, his coaches asked him to fill a need at running back. He agreed — as long as they knew that defense would remain his priority.
“They would always ask me if … I wanted to play offense or defense more, and I always picked defense,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins began playing on both sides of the ball, and while he may have preferred linebacker, he put up solid offensive numbers. As a junior, he rushed for 452 yards and five touchdowns across nine games, and he also added two receiving touchdowns. Following that season, however, he signed with Missouri as a linebacker, and as a senior his running back duties diminished.
Wilkins said he’s grateful for his experience on the offensive side of the ball. Playing running back improved his footwork, for one, and also allowed him to better anticipate where an opposing back is running. He called his ability to quickly diagnose offensive plays his greatest strength as a linebacker.
“Just being able to see what the running back sees so I know what decision the running back will make in the game,” Wilkins said when asked how playing running back helped him improve defensively.
Playing linebacker appeals to Wilkins in part because of the opportunity to lay big hits on opponents. Typically modest, Wilkins did say he takes pride in knowing that he has a reputation in Texas as a heavy hitter. He also took pride in delivering the blow to opposing linebackers when he carried the ball, never allowing them to make the kind of violent tackle that brings fans to their feet.
“Being a defensive player, I already knew that the game was either hit somebody or get hit, so that just transferred,” Wilkins said. “… I knew that I needed to hit somebody and not really get hit.”
Wilkins’ running back days are almost certainly over, which is fine with him. That leaves more time to focus on defense. He said the main aspect of his game he’s sought to improve between the end of his high school season and now has been preparing himself for the increased physicality of college football. He often relied on his speed and quick play recognition to make plays, he said, and he knows he’ll need the strength to shed blockers in the SEC. To prepare for his freshman season, Wilkins said he contacted the Missouri coaching staff and procured copies of the workouts the players on campus have been doing.
Wilkins also knows that the Tigers will feature three returning starters at linebacker this season, so his chances of seeing playing time there as a true freshman are slim. Right now, that doesn’t concern him. He only revealed one concrete goal for his college career: to graduate. Aside from that, Wilkins believes that with hard work, he will be prepared when opportunities will present themselves.
“A goal for anybody that goes to college should be to graduate with your diploma and making sure that you have a set foundation, because as my mom always says, football is not forever,” Wilkins said. “And then, I would just say being the best I can. Hopefully that will lead to me getting playing time (this season). If not, it will give me some more time to work and get better.”