Small-town center takes big stage

Ben Wilkerson will anchor the LSU offensive line in 2002 and hopes to continue the success he established as a Freshman All-SEC pick last season.

When he was not excelling as a student and athlete at Hemphill High School in Texas, Ben Wilkerson spent time on stage as a member of the school's drama club. He played a starring role in "The Lilies of the Field."


When asked to play in a starting role as the center for the LSU football team as a true freshman, Wilkerson was anything but a lily on the field. He had been destined for the part as a high school All-American and was widely considered the Tigers' center of the future.


"I was surprised," said Wilkerson. "We were doing real well, but unfortunately a couple guys got hurt and I had to step in. It was a good that I had learned enough and the other guys were there to help with the things I didn't know and needed to know to fill in."


Wilkerson's early opportunity came when right guard Dwayne Pierce suffered an ankle injury against Florida. Center Rob Sale was moved over to fill the spot and Wilkerson took over at center. Once Pierce was ready to play again, he got his spot back and Wilkerson stayed with the starting unit. Sale was used a reserve at both guard spots and center.


"I really enjoyed jumping in right away and playing college football straight out of high school, especially in the SEC," said WIlkerson. "It was a privilege."


It may have been a privilege for Wilkerson, and he may have gotten help along the way. But he admits there were many challenges he faced en route to becoming the Tigers' starting center. The hardest part for him was playing in front of a capacity crowd at Tiger Stadium and concentrating on his assignments.


"You don't want to mess up," he said. "You don't want to look like a fool in front of 92,000 people. Once I started getting into the game…and going about what I know, trusting in the guys around me, we just got the job done. It made my job a lot easier coming in as a true freshman."


So did the guidance of offensive line coach George Yarno, says Wilkerson. Having been through the ringer as a college and pro player, Yarno has the respect of the Tiger linemen who see him as someone who has practiced what he preaches.


Wilkerson and the rest of the Tigers also looked up to quarterback Rohan Davey, and Ben knows his leadership and presence in the huddle will be missed this season. The veterans on the offense will have to make up for Davey's absence, and Wilkerson says he is ready to assume his share of the responsibilities.


Having already gone to war with Matt Mauck, the heir to Davey at quarterback, Wilkerson is confident the Tigers' new signal caller will handle the job capably.


"I don't think he'll miss a step," said Wilkerson. "We're all going work together and try to do the things we need to do. It won't be any different between Rohan and him as far as how we perform together as a team."


Q&A with Ben Wilkerson

TR: Here's an easy question. What is your happiest moment from your first season as an LSU Tiger?

BW: The SEC Championship. Coming in as a true freshman and accomplishing something like that with such a good team, it's something I'm always going to remember.


TR: What was the scariest or most intimidating challenge you faced?

BW: Fall camp. I really didn't know what we were getting into. As it went on it got easier, but right at first it was probably the scariest.


TR: Are you ever afraid on the football field?

BW: Yeah, but fear brings the best out of you. You want to do your best. I just take it in stride and take it as a motivation, do the best I can to excel and help my teammates come out with a victory.


TR: What didn't you know about LSU before you came here that you've learned since coming?

BW: How good my teammates are as supporters. You always hear about the diehard fans of the Tigers. But whenever a player is down or not too confident, the players are always supportive and helpful and try to pick you back up when you're down.

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