ATHENS — Reggie Wilkerson remembers it like it was yesterday. It was the summer and he was on the Georgia practice fields competing with teammates in a 7-on-7 drill. Two receivers ran post routes from opposite sides of the field and ended up colliding in the middle. Wilkerson, covering on the play, ran into the back of tight end Jordan Davis.
He instantly felt the dreaded pop in his knee.
Wilkerson was ushered into the training room and told fairly quickly it appeared to be an ACL injury. At that very moment, he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
“I didn’t know ACLs were like a big deal at the time,” Wilkerson said after a recent Bulldogs’ practice. “So when they told me how long I was going to have to be out, I was like, ‘man,’ I didn’t know what to do. So I was down and out for a while.”
That was the summer of 2013, and Wilkerson virtually disappeared for the next 18 months. He has played in one game since, the Troy game last year, and registered one tackle.
That was in stark contrast to what had been predicted for him just a short time before. Wilkerson, just months removed from high school in Citra, Fla., had made a huge splash for the Bulldogs as an early enrollee. He had emerged from spring practice No. 1 on the depth chart at cornerback. The buzz about him had carried over during summer work.
But then the knee injury happened, and Ron Courson and Georgia’s medical staff let him know that 2013 was out and they’d have to wait and see what he looked like in the spring of 2014.
In the meantime, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left and so did his position coach, Scott Lakatos. Suddenly, Wilkerson felt somewhat abandoned.
“It was pretty bad,” he said. “I didn’t really think my knee would be back healthy like I think it is now. But Mr. Ron got me back. The whole strength staff got me back. So I’m pretty good now.”
Apparently he is. Once again, Wilkerson appears to be in the mix for a starting position. Only now, it’s not at cornerback, where he was recruited to play. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound sophomore has been working primarily at safety and nickel, or star, as the Bulldogs like to call it.
“I’ll play anything really,” he said. “I just want to play.”
Wilkerson is part of a secondary that is young, yet experienced. Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders started multiple games as freshmen last year. Quincy Mauger is pretty much a grizzled veteran as a junior. And sophomore cornerback Malkom Parrish got a lot of playing time as a freshman backup.
Pruitt continues to work them all at multiple positions to come up with pecking order where he could insert anybody anywhere in the case of injury or fatigue substitutions.
“We’re still learning,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in and playing a lot of different positions. But I think at the end of the day we’re going to be pretty good.”
As for the two-year, semi-hiatus, Wilkerson looks at it now as “a blessing.”
“I was down and out, but it’s just a blessing to be able to come back and compete for a starting job,” Wilkerson said. “I never gave that dream up. Football has given me everything I have, really, so I’d never give that dream up. So I knew I’d be back; I just didn’t know when.”