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AMES — Reggie Wilkerson wanted to go somewhere to find himself.
Wilkerson didn’t necessarily feel lost during his time with the Georgia football team, but he wasn’t complete. Time was ticking on his college career and he wanted to go somewhere and feel needed. Iowa State was the fit he’d been hoping to feel for a long time.
“I wouldn’t say I was lost but I was just frustrated a lot,” Wilkerson said. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go in life really. I talked to Coach (Matt) Campbell about everything. He knew my reason why I wanted to leave and now here I just feel at home.
“(I wanted to) play all 12 games or 12-plus games. That was the biggest thing. And when I graduated, Iowa State was there so I didn’t go anywhere else.”
In its effort to inject young talent into the program in its first two recruiting classes under Campbell, Iowa State also has picked a handful of junior college and graduate transfer veterans to provide a balance — particularly in the defensive secondary. Former Duke safety Evrett Edwards arrived last year as a graduate transfer while cornerback D’Andre Payne has two more years of eligibility.
Wilkerson, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound safety from Ocala, Fla., has only one season with the Cyclones after spending the last four at Georgia. He’s played in 20 games, including all 13 his sophomore season while he recorded 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.
“He’s a guy that’s obviously played in some big-time environments, but he’s also a guy that’s really come in, not said anything and just went to work,” Campbell said. “That’s impressive sometimes when you get a fifth-year transfer, you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but he’s a guy that’s just said, ‘Listen I’m going to come in and work really hard, I’m going to invest.’”
The ability to have a fresh start in Ames, Wilkerson said, is largely due to his mother pushing him hard to obtain his undergraduate degree.
“She harped on me at a young age,” Wilkerson said. “I felt like I couldn’t leave without doing that. In coming here and joining a master’s program, I wanted to get my second degree here as well. It’s really about my mom because she’s on me about everything.”
Even in the 23-year-old’s limited role at Georgia, Wilkerson was able to gain invaluable reps that mesh with the Cyclones’ secondary. He’s listed as the starting strong safety with senior multiyear starter Kamari Cotton-Moya playing free safety. Edwards is slotted at the “Star” position, which is a linebacker/safety hybrid that guards the slot.
What serves Wilkerson well is his knowledge of scheme. It’s his speed that cranks things up a notch.
“I see a lot of speed and versatility as far as putting him anywhere in the secondary,” said junior cornerback Brian Peavy. “Great characteristics and great ability, so it’ll be a great asset to us in the secondary.”
“Boy can play ball,” Edwards said. “He’s fast, he’s doing well.”
Wilkerson didn’t spend the spring practicing at Iowa State because he was finishing classes at Georgia, but was able to add weight in the offseason. He got to Ames weighing 185, which is 15 pounds heavier than his playing weight last season. The weight has allowed him to play run and pass defense for longer stretches with more stamina.
“It’s helped him a ton,” said defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jon Heacock. “I think it’s given him some endurance and some stability out there being a little bit bigger body.”
While building up his body, Wilkerson also spent time analyzing Iowa State film. He watched every game from last season, studying quarterbacks’ tendencies, receivers’ route-running ability and general offensive scheme. Iowa State allowed a 61 percent completion rate, 234.8 yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns in 2016.
Two things became apparent to Wilkerson when he stepped foot on Iowa State’s practice field. Iowa’s weather was a welcome change to the constant Georgia heat, and he’d be seeing a lot more action in the secondary.
“They throw the ball a lot in the Big 12,” Wilkerson said. “That’s why I came here was for them to throw the ball and get more film and just expand myself to scouts and everything.”
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