ATHENS -- Reggie Wilkerson still remembers the play.
It was the summer of 2013 and Georgia players were participating in voluntary seven-on-seven workouts. Georgia’s offense had a receiver and tight end run crossing routes, with Wilkerson playing cornerback.
Wilkerson, a newcomer, left spring practices running with the first team and was in contention for a starting spot as a true freshman.
Then the collision happened.
Both the offensive players ran into each other, which caused Wilkerson to jam his knee into tight end Jordan Davis’ body. The knee buckled, and Wilkerson fell to the turf.
Wilkerson tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed the 2013 season.
“It was nerve wracking. I didn’t know ACL (injuries) were a big deal at that time,” Wilkerson said. “But when they told me I was going to be out, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do.’ I was down and out but had some guys that were able to pick me up and go through the ACL.”
Wilkerson was forced to sit out his first season and take a redshirt year. Then defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for Louisville, with the Bulldogs hiring Jeremy Pruitt to replace him.
Summer injuries are the most unexpected ones. Players aren’t tackling to the ground and try to avoid contact at all costs. Wilkerson, much like most first-year players, was just trying to play hard and prove to his teammates what he could do on the field.
His injury set him back as he works his way into a rotational spot two years after the fact.
“When you’re out there competing for a spot, you’re going to push yourself pretty hard,” sophomore receiver Shakenneth Williams said. “It’s a thing that just happens. Nobody plans for it, it just happens.”
Wilkerson only logged one game of action a season ago against Troy, to which he recorded one tackle.
This year, however, could be a different story.
This preseason, Wilkerson has been running as a second-team safety while logging some practice time at the star position. A year ago, Pruitt rotated his defensive backs on a game by game basis, creating the opportunity for multiple players to work in different situations.
There were days when it seemed like the knee wouldn’t recover. It’s a long and arduous process a player must go through to recover from an ACL tear. Wilkerson said that throughout the negative thoughts, he always looked toward the long term.
“I never gave that dream up,” Wilkerson said. “Football gave me everything I have. I just never gave that dream up. I knew I would be able to come back. I just didn’t know when.”
Wilkerson might not have known much about how critical ACL tears were before experiencing one. Now, he cringes at the thought of other players going through the same situation he went through. Wilkerson’s advice to those who suffer the same injury is to stay patient and that better days do remain ahead.
“It’s just a process. I look at them like ‘You’re going to be all right,’ ” he said. “If I can get through it, as down and out as I was, I think anybody can get through it.”