Tustin star Wilkerson chases Foster's legacy

If Anthony Wilkerson deserves a label, it should include a disclaimer: athlete remains unimpressed by his own statistics.

A sophomore season at Tustin (Orange County) High School where he carried the ball 234 times for 1,211 yards registered just an "okay" from Stanford's freshman-to-be. His lasting memories from the 2007 campaign revolve more around a regular season finale loss that cost his team a play-off trip.

Coupled with the Tillers' appearance in the section championship game, totaling 2,299 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns on 271 tries a year later deserves something in the way of superlatives. To Anthony Wilkerson, it was "pretty good."

Famous for his prolific numbers on the field, the nephew of former Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mike Davis owns a proven record of modesty off the gridiron. The state's high school record books make certain his name lives on, though others close to him are more familiar with his humble side.

"He's not your everyday high school kid. I think his humility is what makes him stand out the most," Tustin head coach Myron Miller said. "He's so concerned about his teammates. You see how much he cares. When they need somebody to put together a highlight film for recruiters to see, they go him."

His 6,353 career yards rank him 22nd all-time among California prep running backs. Easy as it may be to dismiss high school numbers as overvalued, consider Wilkerson's nearest company in the record books. He's sandwiched one spot ahead of Justin Fargas, one slot behind Jahvid Best.

Over 1,000 yards distance career leader Toby Gerhart's 9,662 from the career runner-up. Another Cardinal great, Glyn Milburn, once held the state record for single-season rushing yards.

Wilkerson himself wanted no part of college recruiting coordinators during his senior season. The Stanford opportunity that first presented itself early in 2007, when Cardinal assistant Tim Drevno dropped in on Wilkerson's varsity basketball game, was too much to turn down. He never wavered from his June 2009 verbal commitment to Stanford.

"I just wanted to focus my senior year on my team and get rid of as many distractions as possible," said Wilkerson, whose other uncle Mark Davis played baseball for Stanford in the early '80s. "With Stanford, there was too much to offer. I feel like I would have been selling myself short if I wasn't going to commit to them, once their opportunity presented itself."

What ensued was a senior campaign so successful, only one other Orange County high school running back can say he ever did better.

Where Mark Grace and Shawn Green once played baseball, Tustin High's venerable campus (doors opened here in 1922) also saw DeShaun Foster emerge as a prep phenom. Comparisons between Wilkerson and the former UCLA/Carolina Panther standout are appropriate. Both stand around six feet tall. Both were standout guards on the high school hardwood. Both made a habit out of 300-yard games.

"DeShaun runs a bit more upright and he's a little taller," said Miller, head coach at Tustin for 15 seasons. "Anthony is a one-cut back, but he's so quick that he's going to make defenders overpursue."

As Tustin raced to a Century League championship and was averaging over 38 points per game, Wilkerson neared Foster's single-season county rushing records of 3,398 yards and 59 touchdowns, set during his senior year of 1997. Wilkerson settled for 2,843 yards and 43 trips across paydirt.

In four 2009 games, he eclipsed 300 yards on the ground. The final time came in the CIF Southern Section playoff opener against Huntington Beach, which saw #32 score on touchdown runs of 25, 77, 43 and 68 yards – in the first half.

Wilkerson had amassed 244 yards on only nine carries in the game's first two quarters. By the time the Tillers finished off a 63-0 night's work, their star running back had tallied a career-best 355 yards and five touchdowns.

Any runner even mentioned alongside Foster deserves merit. Two years before helping lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, Foster personally demolished Washington in 2001, becoming the first Pac-10 runner in 17 years to crack 300 yards in a game. Foster is one of six Bruins to post more than 3,000 career yards. Wilkerson is vying to become the fourth Cardinal back in such rarified air, alongside all-time Stanford greats Darrin Nelson, Gerhart and Brad Muster.

"I've never met [Foster] before, but to be compared to him is saying a lot," Wilkerson said. "He had a great career in college and the NFL."

So prolific was his production in 2009 that it played a part in ending Wilkerson's promising basketball career. He chose to take this past hoops season off to nurse a sore ankle, but says he'll again run track in the spring.

He's now taking his first high school economics class, enjoying the topic so much that he's considering it as a major once he enrolls at Stanford. It's fitting, since Wilkerson and important numbers have a way of finding each other.

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