Entering the 2016 season, Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins won a three-way competition for the Sun Devils' starting job, outlasting Brady White and Bryce Perkins, who suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp, to earn the right to succeed Mike Bercovici.
This spring, Wilkins is back to reassume his starting role as a junior, but with a new offensive coordinator joining the program, every position on the offensive depth chart is up for grabs.
Though Wilkins built a strong personal bond with former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, he'll have to win over new coordinator Billy Napier to once again win an open quarterback competition and keep the title of starter for a second straight season.
With the Sun Devils' spring practice slate coming to an end this week, Wilkins said Monday that he's worked hard this spring to forge a connection with Napier and develop a strong working relationship that can allow the player and the coach to thrive in their respective roles.
"Every day I learn something new about him (Napier), every day I gain a certain level of respect for him," Wilkins said. "Obviously I was super close with coach Lindsey but I hope to have the opportunity to be really close with coach Napier. He's done a really good job, like I said, of just bringing a different level of intensity."
Wilkins said one of the attributes he appreciates the most about Napier is his consistent nature, as well as the intensity he brings to ASU's meeting rooms and practice field on a daily basis.
"He's been, there hasn't been a day he's come in here and you look in his eyes and are like, 'okay, what kind of day are we going to have," Wilkins said. "You know what kind of day we're going to have. When we get in that meeting room, we're all locked in and our eyes are burning out of our head and we're learning something new every day. He's done an amazing job of just being a teacher, really."
This spring, Wilkins is once again battling for the starting job, but the cast of characters he's competing against includes new names. With White and Perkins both unable to fully participate this spring due to injuries, Wilkins' primary competition is coming from Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole.
Sterling-Cole was forced into action as a true freshman in 2016 after Wilkins, White and Perkins all went down with injuries, and he earned his first career start in the Sun Devils' 54-35 loss to the Oregon Ducks in October.
Wilkins said he gained a great deal of respect for the way Sterling-Cole handled himself last fall, especially considering the way Wilkins said he handled himself when he first arrived at ASU. Wilkins said that if he were thrust in to the same situation as Sterling-Cole at his age, he would have struggled because he didn't possess the same attention to detail that he does at this point in his career.
"Freshman year, no," Wilkins said. "I didn't, I wasn't locked in. I tell Dillon (Sterling-Cole) this all the time, I tried to let him know from my experience that if the same situation that had happened to him would have happened to me, I wouldn't have been ready."
As a fourth-year junior, though, Wilkins said he's changed, evolved and matured into the type of leader ASU's coaching staff needs him to be, and part of his developmental process has been his increased attention to detail. These days, Wilkins said his goal is to watch more film than all of his teammates so that when he steps on the field, his fellow offensive players are able to trust the directions he's passing out.
"Now, they have a list, I might be, I should be the highest person on that list of watching film," Wilkins said. "I take pride in being ready to go out there every day and making sure that when I say something, when somebody on my offense asks me what the play is, whether it's the guard, or the receiver, or the running back, or the tight end or whoever, they know that when I say something, that's what it is and they're going to go and do that right."
Wilkins said one of the main reasons he's taken such a dedicated approach to film study is the emphasis Napier has placed on watching film for his quarterbacks. Napier's offensive system is shaping up to be more complex than that of his predecessor, and Wilkins said it's important that he understands all facets of the new scheme.
"It's going great, I think coach Napier has brought in some things that are very beneficial," Wilkins said. "Every day we go over it in meetings, every day we go over it on the practice field and in our off time I think guys are doing a good job of honing in and watching film at home. And I think that's one of the things that coach Napier has really stressed."
As one of ASU's team leaders, Wilkins is hoping his dedication to film study becomes a model his teammates can follow, as he said both he and Napier are attempting to demonstrate how much players can benefit from devoting more of their free time to learning and studying.
"When you're in some down time, instead of just sitting there and watching Netflix or something or going to eat burgers all the time, watch some film, man," Wilkins said. Turn it on for an hour. It can be so beneficial, just an hour of film a day extra can be so much more beneficial at the end of the day."