IT Focus: Lightning Rod

Given the heavy coverage high profile wide receiver prospect Rodriguez Wilks draws on the gridiron and in the media, it's remarkable he manages to take the divergent challenges each presents in stride. It also indicates his topflight talent is tethered to a down-to-earth approach and a rock solid work ethic.

The attraction created by the dynamic of elite athleticism augmented by maturity and character is driving both scouts and scribes to Smyrna droves. Furthermore, it is a big part of the reason that he is a strong candidate for the best high school football prospect in the Volunteer State.

"He's always been a great athlete," said Smyrna head coach Phillip Shadowens, who has served in his present capacity for 13 years. "He was a really special athlete, you knew that coming in, but he's really worked hard to become a better route runner, worked hard on improving his hands and his catching skills and of course he's really paid the price in the weight room. He's one of those special players that's gifted to begin with and has really worked hard to develop his gifts even further."

As a junior Wilks played wide receiver, free safety and return specialist, helping lead his team a 13-2 mark and the Class-5A state championship. On the season he caught 57 passes for 994 yards and nine touchdowns. He recorded 58 tackles, grabbed four interceptions, returned two punts for touchdowns and hauled a kickoff to pay dirt in the title tilt.

"The two teams that beat us we beat in the playoffs," Shadowens said. "We've been to the playoffs 12 years and this was the first opportunity to get a state championship."

Wilks' contributions to Smyrna's first championship endeavor were not limited to his impressive statistical achievements.

"He's a very good leader," Shadowens stated. "He demands a lot of himself and demands the same of his teammates. He really handled the recruiting process and all the attention he's received well. And he's been getting a lot of attention all along. He does a good job with leadership on the practice field and in the weight room. He's well rounded in everything he does. He's a model student and just everything you'd expect a talented high school kid to be. He's a great citizen and a great kid."

Rodriguez Wilks is also a great playmaker who can beat defenses over the top, underneath across the middle. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound prospect recorded a 4.46 time in the 40 at the National Junior Combine in San Antonio and has a vertical leap approaching 40 inches.

"He ran a 4.47 last year at the Adidas camp," said Shadowens. "He's a consistent sub 4.5 guy. Of course we enjoy throwing the ball up to him because he's got like a 38-, 39-inch vertical jump and being 6-2 he can go up and get the ball."

Wilks demonstrated a lot of strength getting off press coverage at the Junior Combine and expertly used his size to effectively shield defenders from the ball. He ran precise routes, exploded out of his breaks and made the tough catches look easy. He changes directions with authority and know how to work his way back toward the line if his quarterback is flushed from the pocket.

Wilks is getting strong interest from a long list of schools and has offers from Tennessee and Alabama. This rising star appears to be a big catch in what is an exceptionally deep 2008 wide receiver class. IT will closely monitor his recruitment.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An in-depth version of this story will appear in the April edition of Rocky Top News.

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