CSU’s Wilkinson goes from zero to hero | VailDaily.com

CSU’s Wilkinson goes from zero to hero

Natalie Meisler
The Denver Post

FORT COLLINS – He was Colorado State’s No. 1 fan in the student section a year ago. He was also the Rams’ No. 1 outcast, barred from locker room celebrations or commiserations.

Having served his penance for an off-field incident a year ago, CSU nickel back DeAngelo Wilkinson is now the team’s No. 2 tackler in a specialty role.

He played his every snap on defense Sunday night against Colorado like a man determined to make the most of a rare second chance.

“Sitting out a year, I had a lot built up inside of me, and a huge chip on my shoulder to prove I could contribute to this team,” the junior said.

Wilkinson played in nickel packages, rotated a few times at cornerback and contributed on special teams. He finished with eight tackles, one behind linebacker Mychal Sisson. Wilkinson also had one of five CSU pass breakups.

As a third-year sophomore going into 2008 after suffering shoulder injuries, Wilkinson came in looking at no less than a backup cornerback role when injuries temporarily depleted the position. Wilkinson let down his teammates when he was slapped with an indefinite suspension before the 2008 season began.

He was charged with two misdemeanor assaults as a minor (then age 20) in possession of alcohol when a fracas spilled outside a Fort Collins nightclub in August 2008. Wilkinson entered a no-contest plea to the possession charge.

As the first player in the two-deep to test Steve Fairchild’s discipline, Wilkinson’s punishment sent a resounding message to his teammates.

“He’s paid a price every day,” CSU cornerback coach Tim Duffie said. “We hold him to a higher standard, not that we hold our other kids to a lower standard. We have a close eye on not only his behavior on the field but his behavior off the field.”

So Wilkinson spent a season in exile in the Hughes Stadium stands – “I was the No. 1 fan, screaming and everything,” he said.

“He was ready to get back on the field again,” Duffie said, “and I think he showed it with his play.”

With the no-contest plea and the university’s disciplinary board’s permission, Wilkinson avoided expulsion by attending counseling classes.

Behind the scenes, Fairchild continued to mentor him, as did team spiritual adviser Johnny Square.

“What happened last year was a mistake. I’m not a bad kid,” Wilkinson said. “It’s no pressure now, because I learned from my mistake and I matured from the situation. I know not to put myself in that predicament again.”

He also forfeited his sophomore year of eligibility.

Wilkinson was given a trial pass in the spring, starting at the bottom of the depth chart. Midway through preseason camp, the staff moved him from cornerback to nickel.

Wilkinson welcomes the extra chance to get on the field, with senior Nick Oppenneer and sophomore Gerard Thomas entrenched as starters at cornerback.

The Rams insisted this week there would be no letdown for the game against Football Championship Subdivision (the old I-AA) Weber State. No area will be tested as much as the secondary, given Weber State’s speed and talent at the skill positions.

“This week is all about maintaining the edge. Our captains pretty much keep us grounded,” Wilkinson said.

But nothing would seem as hard as Fairchild’s zero-tolerance policy. The coach has welcomed back Wilkinson, with the caveat that a mere sneeze would get him tossed.

Duffie is a little easier on the player: “If he coughs. He can get away with a sneeze.”

Natalie Meisler: 303-954-1295 or nmeisler@denverpost.com

Three questions for CSU

1. With their win at CU, will the Rams avoid the usual post-Showdown malaise and come out motivated in their home opener? Last year’s narrow escape against Sacramento State should serve as a warning.

2. With running back John Mosure possibly out with a concussion, will the staff pull the redshirts off freshmen Lou Greenwood and Chris Nwoke? Another personnel decision: freshman safety Ezra Thompson.

3. How will CSU stack up against Weber State in comparison to Wyoming’s 29-22 win? It’s unlikely Weber State will turn over the ball five times, as it did a week ago.

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