Last fall, CSU defensive back DeAngelo Wilkinson had to pick up a football ticket at will call to cheer on his teammates.
Sitting in the stands at Hughes Stadium was the closest the banished player was getting to the CSU football team.
“I was rooting and screaming just like the other fans were,” Wilkinson said.
Suspended indefinitely by the team last August for violating team conduct, Wilkinson was banned from all CSU football functions last season — no practice, no weightlifting, no standing on the sideline with the team.
“If we have someone that’s representing our team in a manner that we don’t stand by, we’ll take their privileges away from them,” cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie said.
Now, the 5-foot-10-inch, 181 pound Wilkinson is the starting nickelback for the Rams defense.
The junior has accumulated 16 tackles, two pass break-ups, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery in five games this season. He also had an interception taken away against Weber State due to a roughing-the-passer penalty.
He has contributed everywhere on the field/– taking snaps at cornerback and starting in place of injured starter Gerard Thomas against Nevada — as well as playing special teams.
“I just go out and play football. I’m just finding any way to help the team,” Wilkinson said. “That’s one thing coach (Steve) Fairchild said when I came back is he wanted to see how I can contribute to the team.”
And what a road back it was for Wilkinson.
“One year off seemed like forever,” he said.
After the suspension, Wilkinson sought out the support of his family and team spiritual adviser, Johnny Square.
“They helped me put my focus back on God, and that’s what helped put me back on track,” Wilkinson said.
Since he couldn’t workout with the team during the season and throughout the winter, Wilkinson did agility and footwork drills on his own. He was in for a rude awakening when he returned to the practice field in spring ball.
“When I came back I found out that it was not enough and not up to coach Fairchild’s standards because I was obviously a little bit out of shape,” Wilkinson said.
Starting from the bottom of the depth chart in spring camp, Wilkinson quickly climbed up with his physical play and a knack for always being around the ball. Mid-way through preseason camp, the coaching staff moved him from cornerback to the nickel position, where he excelled.
“DeAngelo has been a really solid player for us,” said Defensive Coordinator Larry Kerr. “He came on in camp and really established himself as a key ingredient for our defense.”
Now, football — the sport he has played since he was seven years old — has never been so much fun.
“Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone,” Wilkinson said. “That suspension for a year made me realize how much I love playing football.”
And the coaching staff loves seeing the more mature Wilkinson out on the field rather than cheering in the stands.
“I think anytime you have a life changing incident, either you are going to change or you’ll be right back in the shoes that you’re already in,” Duffie said. “Evidently he’s on this team, so he’s doing something right, and we’re happy to have him back.”
Kerr added his sentiments.
“I think he’s learned that you’re accountable for your actions, and as a football player you represent not only yourself, but also you represent your team and you represent the school,” Kerr said.
Wilkinson, too, sees a different person in himself now compared to a year ago.
“I’ve definitely matured,” he said. “You just know that God has the best interest for you, and it’s just a test to see how you’re going to get through that test.”
Now that he’s back on the football field, Wilkinson only has one individual goal for himself.
“I really would like to get a sack,” he said.
He now has that chance, and he can leave a ticket for someone else to pick up at will call on Saturdays.
Football beat reporter Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.