A heart breaking loss in the final seconds of the season's last game cost the Tigers a repeat trip…
Wilkerson using his head
"Well, if you take your helmet off, you're definitely not going to hit your head (on the metal bars of the chute)," said Wilkerson with a laugh. "Technique really becomes important. You're going to make sure you stay low, because you don't want to hit your head."
Wilkerson's mindset approaching the 2003 season could be compared to that of a Shaolin monk: one of complete focus on honing his craft. After a freshman campaign in which he displayed All-SEC and even All-American potential, he suffered through an injury-plagued and inconsistent 2002.
Now, totally free of the knee problems that hampered him last year, Wilkerson is ready to meet that potential, and he plans on bring the rest of his line-mates along for the ride.
"I'm feeling great," he said. "Everything is 100 percent, no soreness at all. I'm ready to concentrate on being better every day, being a better person and player than you were yesterday.
"(The entire line) wants to be the best offensive line unit LSU has ever had. Being the best line in the country, that's our goal."
The LSU offensive line in 2003 definitely has that potential. At an average of 6-foot-5 and 306 pounds, they are a big and athletic group headed up by Wilkerson, senior right guard Stephen Peterman and sophomore left tackle Andrew Whitworth, all of whom have All-American potential.
Head coach Nick Saban seems to think they are on the right track to meet their goals. He frequently gushed about the line during spring practices, calling them the best line he's had in his four-year tenure in Baton Rouge.
"That recognition makes us feel good," Wilkerson said. "The offensive line doesn't get much recognition, so something like that from the big man makes us feel real good and it's really motivating us to work harder so we don't let him down or ourselves down."
Wilkerson, a 6-4, 300-pounder from Hemphill, Texas, was the top-rated center among high school propsects in 2001 and one of the centerpieces of LSU's star studded recruiting class that included standouts Michael Clayton, Marcus Spears and Whitworth.
Pressed into the lineup due to injuries, Wilkerson quickly proved he had the ability to slug it out in the trenches with the big boys of the SEC.
Now as a junior, Wilkerson has become one of the veteran leaders of this team. While guard Stephen Peterman is the vocal leader of the group, Wilkerson works more behind the scenes, helping younger players to learn their assignments and work on techniques.
"(The line) works together as a whole unit," he said, "not just as the first group and the second group. Our backups need to get everything, too."
Wilkerson acknowledged the biggest thing he needs to work on before the Aug. 30 opener is getting himself back into total playing shape and developing his timing with his teammates. Having a new offensive line coach, Stacy Searels, replace George Yarno, one might think developing that timing and good chemistry might be a problem, but Wilkerson says the transition has been relatively seamless.
"Coach Searels has stepped in, and it took a couple days for adjustment, but we kept on rolling and we've been getting better under him," says Wilkerson. "Their intensity, when it comes to coaching, is very similar. (Searels) isn't quite as vocal as coach Yarno was, but he gets on our tails when we mess up and congratulates us when we do a good job. He pays attention to every little detail and he lets us know what we're doing wrong and how to get the problem fixed."
Though there doesn't appear to be much broken on the 2003 LSU offensive line, Wilkerson and his teammates will continue to try and fix things. They will sweat it out in the hot sun until they get things right where they want them to be. If they do, opposing defensive fronts better watch out.
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