"It was tough sitting out, but I'm not looking back. I’m looking forward, totally forward," said Wilkins with a determined look in his eye. “I’m over that. I’m just excited to b e back out there with all my teammates and working hard every day.
“I’m definitely more motivated, and I’ve had my eyes opened. I took a lot for granted before, but when something is taken away that you love, it makes you realize just how fortunate your are to have this skill and this ability to play a game you love on this level."
With all he has been through, the self-imposed bowl ban for 2017 is — even though hurtful — small potatoes to Wilkins.
"It's really nothing to me compared to what I’ve gone through. I brushed that to the side quickly and just tried to help my teammates get over it, which I believe they have," he said. "Don't get me wrong, that's a strong deal in itself, but nothing like missing a whole year. That’s devastating. I'm just excited to go play 12 games with guys I love playing a game I love."
Wilkins made a long post on social media after the bowl ban was announced to let everyone know the team would survive and thrive despite the sanction.
"I try to stay away from social media, but I felt I needed to say something positive as a senior and one of the team leaders. I wanted all Rebels to know we were still going to be fun to watch for 12 games and we would put on a show for our fans and the country," he stated. "Now that I’m a senior, I have to be a leader, but we have good leadership developing besides me."
Wilkins is not only excited about his return, but he likes his RB teammates as well.
"Eric Swinney, Eugene Brazley, D'Vaughn Pennamon, D.K. Buford — we can all run the all and contribute," noted Wilkins. "I think we will be a good group of running backs.
"For my game, I’ve made up my mind to be more physical. I missed the contact, so now I’m going to initiate it. I watched other running backs while I was having to sit out and I realized guys with my frame had a more physical game that I did, so it's time for me to apply that to my game. I trained really hard the year I had to sit out and I believe I’m stronger and more physical. I’ve had no rust coming back. I feel great."
Wilkins got to play one year with Chad Kelly, who he thought was one of the best in the nation, but he is just as excited to work with starting QB Shea Patterson.
“He’s always in the Manning Center working and pushing everyone to get better. He’s young, but he’s a leader. He’s always calling guys to get them to come work out with him extra and they follow his lead," said Wilkins. "You can tell he’s a natural leader because of the way he works and the way he’s always prepared."
Wilkins closed his "comeback interview" with some offensive thoughts.
“We’re not making major changes to anything we’ve been doing, but we’re tweaking everything and I think that will help our run game and our passing game. We have an experienced line and we have skill players everywhere who can make plays all over the field," he closed. "I'm not only excited to be back, but I’m blessed to be back with such talented teammates.
"I think we’re going to light it up next year on offense."
And No. 22 will be in the middle of the scrum for sure, not watching like he did last year.