Iowa State football fans are used to seeing No. 4 and No. 5 in the secondary like last season. Evrett Edwards (No. 4) and Kamari Cotton-Moya (No. 5) were the two featured safeties in 2016.
Now, there’s a No. 3 in the mix of the secondary. The man who wears that jersey is Reggie Wilkerson. A 5-foot-11-inch, 180-pound redshirt senior who transferred from Georgia last season.
Now there are three veteran safeties defensive coordinator Jon Heacock can rely on to get the job done and come out of the game with a win.
“It’s been great having that leadership from all three of those secondary players,” Heacock said. “They’re ready for anything that comes their way and they’re ready to improve any other player in any given situation.”
Wilkerson grew up in Ocala, Florida, became a four-star recruit out of high school and was ranked 42nd in the state of Florida, according to Rivals. He chose Georgia as his top school and became a Bulldog in 2013.
He was redshirted during his first year and only would play in one game in his second year, 2014. Once 2015 came, he was able to contribute a few more times, but wasn’t the premier player in the secondary.
Wilkerson recorded 11 tackles, while playing in all 13 games in 2015. That 2015 season would be his best season at Georgia because last season, 2016, he only played in six games. He was ready to move on and explore new options to finish out his college football career.
“Just being able to play a little bit more,” Wilkerson said. “There’s no hard feelings toward Georgia. I love Georgia. It was just a business decision.
“I’m glad I made that decision.”
Iowa State had Wilkerson on radar after associate head coach Louis Ayeni knew one of the graduate assistants at Georgia. The Cyclones pursued Wilkerson hard and the rest was history.
Wilkerson wanted to become a Cyclone.
He came to Iowa State as a graduate transfer, meaning he could play in the 2017 season. The hardest transition he had off the field was finding a new major.
On the field, the biggest transition was understanding the tempo and simplicity of the Iowa State defense. Wilkerson said he had many different defensive schemes back in Georgia, so coming to Ames, it was a nice transition.
Less complexity and more on doing your job correctly, so the entire defense looks good and gets the job done.
Wilkerson said the tempo of not just Iowa State, but the Big 12 Conference was a big transition. The style seemed quicker, which he needed to adjust to in the first couple of games.
Now, Wilkerson is excited and ready to go for the last month of the regular season. Coach Matt Campbell has seen confidence and leadership come out of Wilkerson that’s needed in his position as a veteran on the defense.
“Reggie [Wilkerson] is a guy that has a lot of confidence in his ability,” Campbell said. “I think there’s nothing overwhelming for Reggie. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Campbell added that Wilkerson is good at tackling and it shows with some of the tackles he makes that can prevent touchdowns or long runs and catches.
Wilkerson appreciates the freedom that Heacock gives him in the ability to roam around in the secondary because he feels comfortable with that freedom. He played many different positions at Georgia including nickel, strong safety, free safety and a little cornerback.
He feels confident in himself to do his job on the field and believes in his other defensive teammates to get their job done, so they can get off the field.
With the veteran core in the secondary, Wilkerson said they try to pick each other’s brains to learn more and challenge each other. He appreciates having these veteran safeties around him because they share their knowledge on the game, which develops Wilkerson into a better player.
“This is college football,” Wilkerson said. “We’re just worried about ourselves. We know what we’re able to do and that’s what we’re doing.”