Inside the Class of '05: Jerrell Wilkerson

The 15th (and last) in a daily series of interviews and photo essays on members of the Longhorn Class of '05: Signee Jerrell Wilkerson.

Jerrell Wilkerson
Running Back
San Antonio Clark HS
NR: 42 SR: 46 Star Rating: ***

An Inside Texas conversation with Clark head coach Lloyd Alexander on Jerrell Wilkerson:

IT: What are Jerrell's strengths as a football player?

Alexander: Well, his physical attributes, he's not very tall, not very big, but he has tremendous quickness and he has tremendous speed and I think his biggest attribute is, he has such terrific perepherial vision that he can see the field really well and his lateral movement is tremendous. The other thing that helped us out so much was this year and last year he had so much notoriety that could make for dissention on the team but he's such a humble kid and he talks about his teammates so much, so that made that a lot easier. He was a good team leader for us also.

IT: You mentioned his notoriety. He obviously gained that because he's put up some unbelievable numbers...

Alexander: I think it just kind of snowballed as it went. I can't remember how many yards he had his freshman year -- he had about 6 or 800 hundred or something like that, which is pretty god as a freshman. There was also another running back here that was really good so that made it easier for him to go from the middle school to the varsity because he wasn't counted upon. Then his sophomore year we had a really good offensive line and a really good football team and so he really came out of his shell then. He just convinced himself that he could be a good running back if he kept working hard and kept doing things right. His junior year was tough. We didn't go to the playoffs but he set the city record for most yards in a 10-game season -- I think he had 2,200 yards or something like that -- and we were 4-6 that year. We could have easily been 0-10 if it hadn't been for his running. This last year, of course, there was probably a lot more pressure on him than there's ever been. He even told me every once in a while that it was kinda pressurized. Ya know, they had this thing called the Wilkerson Watch in the paper and every week it had how many yards he gained and how many yards he needed (to break the San Antonio high school career rushing record) and at the beginning of the year, they kept saying, 'What's wrong with him', he was only gaining like 140 yards a game. [Laughs] I'd like the next back to come in and gain 140 yards per game, too. That'd be real nice, too. But then he broke out and he had some really big games and I think he had some goals in mind and he set some goals and I think his main goal was to make it to the playoffs and he knew that to make it to the playoffs he was going to have to run well so he put the time and effort into it.

IT: At lot of times, when kids have the success that he had early on, they kind of coast. Talk about what he has done in terms of keeping up his drive and ethic.

Alexander: It's tough on a kid. He's only 17 years old right now. He's a young senior and when he was 16 and 15 and putting up these big numbers, I just think he took it all in stride as it went through. I think it was really tough his senior year because of everything that was expected of him but he took it in stride. Our program is all based on team concept, so if you teach the kids right in the offseason about the team concept, they're going to be able to handle that. He had some good athletes that went with him. We had a good quarterback this year, good receiver and our offensive line came on and we had some good secondary kids, so I think he realized without those guys he couldn't achieve his goals.

IT: You mentioned Jerrell's leadership ability. How does he lead and how has he shown that in the past?

Alexander: Well, he's kinda a quiet kid so he basically leads by example. He works hard in practice and he doesn't pass up any reps, so he works all the time and I think his leadership ability from the standpoint of when he did interviews, always talking about his teammates, I think that showed a lot of leadership there.

IT: What did the Texas coaches tell you that they liked about Jerrell?

Alexander: I think they like his versatility more than anything. The kid can catch the ball out of the backfield, he's a good running back, he's a punt return guy, he's a kickoff return guy, so I think they like his versatility more than anything else because he brings a lot of things to the table.

IT: Based on what they've told you, do they have a plan for Jerrell for when he sets foot on campus this fall?

Alexander: They told me that they thought that he would work in there as a return specialist some. I didn't ask them much about their plan, too worried about our plan. We've got about 90-percent of the offense walking out the door... It's like any other year. Kids graduate and others step up to the plate, it's just that every once in while, you get a kid like this. Ya know, we had another great running back that went to Texas. A kid by the name of Wane McGarity. We're just fortunate that we've had (guys like Jerrell and Wane).

IT: How does Jerrell compare to McGarity?

Alexander: Well, they're two different people. I hate to compare anybody because they played in different eras. Work ethic-wise they were both exactly the same. Wane was a little bit bigger and Wane went through a lot of adversity. His junior year here we were 5-0 and he went down on a non-contact play and we went 2-3 the rest of the year and missed the playoffs. Boy, he worked so hard to get back that he ended up going to the state meet in the 100 meters that spring after ripping his ACL to bits. He was that kind of kid. He really worked hard. He was a little stronger, a little more powerful. Jerrell's a little more lateral movement. Two great kids, two great running backs.

IT: What are Jerrell's current measurables?

Alexander: Haven't measured him since last spring, but he's about 5-8, weighs about 175. He's going to get bigger because he's a young kid.

IT: Some look at his size and say he is too small to be successful at the next level. What do you say to that?

Alexander: I say, look at Oklahoma and their small back (Quentin Griffin) and Texas Tech (Ricky Williams), what they do with their small backs. Put those big fat guys in front of them and they kind of hide back there and all of a sudden they pop and I think that's the way Jerrell is going to be.

IT: What are the areas of his game that Jerrell needs to improve upon to be successful at the next level?

Alexander: You can always get better in every facet of the game. I think he needs to get stronger and he's working on that, but strength more than anything and that'll come with age, too. I mean, if you look at the kid, he looks young. He needs to work on his strength.

IT: How did you use Jerrell in your offense?

Alexander: We have a great offensive staff -- we have co-coordinators coach Steve McGee and coach Travis Price -- and they just sat down and formuated a plan and put Jerrell where they thought the weakness of the other defense was. And I think they did an outstanding job because everybody knew Jerrell was going to get the ball, some way some how, and he still got 2,500 yards last year. Everybody knew him, it wasn't like it was a secret, they just went about finding the weaknesses and in some games he had more yards receiving than he did rushing and in one game he had more return yards than anything else...

IT: What did Jerrell mean to your football program?

Alexander: He no doubt enhanced our football program in terms of notoriety, but he just helped reinforce everything we try to teach to our kids. There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doiing things, there's class and there's character and there's honesty and there's pride and he reinforced it. A kid has that much notoriety and that much success it makes other kids want to do the exact same thing rather than doing it the wrong way. That's really what our program is based on. We really never talk about wins and losses, we talk about how to do things right and after the football career to be a productive member of society and he does that for the most part. I mean he messes up like any other kid does, but for the most part he's that way and from our standpoint that helps us because it reinforces what we're doing now for those kids. They've got a lot of pressures right now and lot of things they want to do the other way and we're pretty strict at this school. Our district is good in that way, they say that our athletes are beholden to higher standards than the general public and we hold them higher than the district and he reinforces that and I think that's what he's meant to the program for us.

IT: The Texas coaching staff has a similar reputation and philosophy to what you just described. Do you see that being a good fit for Jerrell?

Alexander: Yeah, that's what makes it good. Coach Brown seems like he's one of those guys that preaches the same thing. I know he preaches family a lot and that's the most important thing to us. Faith, family and then football, so it will make a good fit for him. The bottom line is not wins, the bottom line is how you're going to act.

IT: Is there a defining moment for you that exemplifies Jerrell's ability as a football player?

Alexander: Not really because there have been so many unbelievable plays. We can go back four years and there have been so many unbelieavable plays so it kinda sounds bad, but you just expect something big to happen. We go down to play Corpus Christi Moody in the first round of the playoffs and we're doing OK but Corpus Christi Moody had a really good team, they had just scored, the fans are rocking, and they kick off and he runs it back 99 yards. That just kind of put a stop to the momentum but it was kind if expected. He does those type of things.

IT: Is there anything you'd like to add about Jerrell that we didn't already cover?

Alexander: We're going to miss him because he's a good kid. Even if he had not gotten all this notoriety and did all he did, he's one of those kid that we want to come back and say 'Hi' and all that because he is a good kid. To me, that's the most important thing. All this other stuff -- it's good, don't get me wrong, that he's a good kid is better.

Note from Clendon: I asked Jerrell in San Antonio during U.S. Army Bowl week about playing alongside West squad teammate and future Longhorn backfield mate Jamaal Charles, and his answer I believe is indicative of his team-first attitude described by coach Alexander. "Jamaal Charles is a great cat," Wilkerson said. "He really has a (feel) for the game and he really knows how to play. To be part of a backfield like that is something extraordinary. Me and him became good friends mostly throughout this week knowing we're going to play together also and just realizing each other's talents. Like he knows, I'm more of a multiple player where I'm not just going to be playing running back, I'm going to be returning and all that stuff, so we can respect each other without having to worry about competing..." I also asked Jerrell about what he did for the Rose Bowl: "I pretty much had all my friends come over to my house, come into my room, close the door, put on our UT gear and sit there and not leave the room. If somebody wants something to drink, then that was on them, but we pretty much just set there and watched it the whole way through. We're Texas fans to the fullest so it was a great experience." How nervous was he during those long minutes between UT's final offensive play and Dusty Mangum's game-winning kick? "I'm not there yet, but the fact that I will be going there, kind of makes me closer and the fact that I'll be plying with a lot of those players. Them calling those timeouts, I was right there, right there in front of the screen waiting till he kicked that ball and when he made it we all jumped up and started calling all of our A&M friends, telling them how they got whupped by Tennessee and how we beat Michigan. It was all fun. And I'm excited just because the fact the coaches called me and said I could have played in that game, returning and stuff like that, and that's something that I take excitement in, knowing that if I work hard it'll pay off in the end."

UT's Signing Day bio: A two-time first-team 5A All-State selection … four-year letterman and four-time All-District pick … played in the 2005 U.S. Army All-America Bowl … rushed for 7,249 yards (San Antonio city record) and 110 TDs in his career … totaled 124 TDs including 12 kick return TDs … helped his team to the 5A Division II area finals as a senior... earned 2004 USA Today All-America Honors… tabbed first-team 5A All-State by The Associated Press as a senior … named District 27-5A MVP as well as All-Area MVP in 2004 … rushed for 2,501 yards and 47 TDs as a senior … scored a total of 54 TDs including four kickoff returns and two punt returns … had over 400 yards rushing and seven first-half rushing TDs in game versus Holmes as a senior … ran for 290 yards on 20 carries and five TDs versus Taft in 2004 … named first-team 5A All-State by The Associated Press and second-team 5A All-State by the Texas Sports Writers Association as a junior … rushed for 2,201 yards and 34 TDs in 2003 … also returned three kickoffs for TDs that year … named first-team All-District and second-team All-Area as a sophomore … returned three kickoffs for TDS in 2002 … earned Honorable Mention All-District as a freshman … also was a four-year letterman in track … competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m, and sprint relays … played basketball as a freshman … a prep honor roll student who was a member of the National Honor Society as a junior … visited local children's cancer hospitals as a senior … also spent time mentoring at a local elementary school … enjoys playing basketball and video games in his free time … is a cousin of former NFL Hall of Famer and USC All-America safety Ronnie Lott, who played 14 seasons in the NFL with San Francisco (1981-90), the Los Angeles Raiders (91-92) and the New York Jets (1993-94) … uncle, Terrell Washington played running back at Texas State in the early 90s … born July 31, 1987, in San Antonio, Texas.

"I've never been in a community where support for the football team has been so great. That's probably the main reason. Everybody supports the team so much. I love the facilities. Everything is top of the line and there's a lot of history there. Austin in general just seems like a great college town."

*Photos by Will Gallagher/Inside Texas*

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