Nov. 3, 2004
ATLANTA–Playing his third position in three seasons is no problem for Georgia Tech’s leading tackler, Gerris Wilkinson.
The junior linebacker is second in the ACC with 10.6 tackles per game. He also has 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble.
Wilkinson and the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-3 ACC) travel to Raleigh, N.C., for a key Atlantic Coast Conference matchup with NC State (4-4, 3-3 ACC) Saturday at 12 noon at Carter-Finley Stadium. The game will be regionally televised on the JP Sports/Raycom ACC network.
After playing as a backup outside linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2002 and then earning a starting spot there the following spring, Wilkinson moved to defensive end just before the start of the 2003 campaign. Just as he has this season, he made a quick adjustment to defensive end, starting every game at end and collecting 47 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Last spring he returned to linebacker but had to learn the middle linebacker position, where he replaced Daryl Smith, now a starter for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It’s been interesting,” said Wilkinson, who had 14 tackles and a caused fumble last week against Virginia Tech. “Although it has been difficult to learn different new positions so frequently, I think it has helped. Now I feel I have more knowledge of the entire defensive scheme.”
That knowledge of the game has helped Wilkinson, an Academic All-ACC honoree last fall, succeed regardless of the position.
“I think I’m able to deal out more physical punishment rather than receiving it like I did last year playing defensive end,” he said. “So from a physical a standpoint, I like line backer a lot more than defensive end.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable every week and playing alongside Chris Reis and the great defensive line we have makes things a lot easier. Being second in the ACC in tackles is not just me but a testament to the hard work of all the players around me.”
Over the last three games, Wilkinson has averaged 11.3 tackles while recording five tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Earlier this season, he had his first career interception against North Carolina.
Wilkinson’s hometown is listed as Oakland, Calif., where he attended Skyline High School. Although it’s a long way from home, Georgia Tech was an easy choice because his father, Greggory Wilkinson, lives in Atlanta.
“My dad’s side of the family is from Atlanta and they never got to see me play in high school,” said Wilkinson. “I used to come to Atlanta for the holidays and I just liked the city a lot. I also liked Georgia Tech because of the balance of athletics and academics.”
Wilkinson enjoys having a family support system close by.
“My dad and I were close when I was growing up, but it was more so over the phone and not in person,” he said. “Now he can come to all the games.”
Wilkinson and his defensive mates know they need to put last week’s difficult loss to Virginia Tech behind them and focus on preparing for a dangerous NC State team.
“In our preparation for games we know that we can’t give up big plays. Coach Tenuta stresses that a lot in meetings. That’s one of the things we allowed in the second half of Thursday’s game and it cost us the game. We need to do a better job of preventing that for the rest of the season.”
Wilkinson also knows the importance of winning the turnover battle.
“We go out every game trying to force turnovers and it won’t be any different against NC State. We had a few turnovers last game and we need to continue that in order to help the offense and to keep our defense fresh.”