Wilkins Jr.’s leadership key for the Irish following season-ending injury
Matt Smith | Friday, November 19, 2021
Joe Wilkins Jr. was ready to be a difference-maker for the Notre Dame offense this season. After a promising junior campaign where he caught seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, the senior wide receiver from North Fort Myers, Florida, put in the work during the offseason in preparation for a breakout year.
“I’ve kind of been the guy just to get by,” Wilkins said during fall camp. “I’ve been in the backseat, I did what I had to do just to be a role player and to be relevant, but I always had people in front of me.”
Wilkins Jr. continued, saying how his confidence has been reaffirmed by his coaches.
“For [coach Rees] to sit me down and talk to me, it showed me that he has confidence in me. Coach Kelly has confidence in me,” he said. “My wide receivers, my brothers, everybody has confidence in me. They know what I can do. They’ve seen me do it in practice, so now it’s time for me to just take it to the field now on game day.”
Wilkins Jr.’s offseason effort paid off in the season opener against Florida State. He caught a massive 23-yard touchdown to propel the Irish to a 41-38 victory, and his role continued to grow early in the season. He was well on his way to surpassing last year’s receiving numbers with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown through five games.
Unfortunately, Wilkins Jr.’s season was cut short due to a torn MCL that he suffered against Cincinnati. As was the case last year when he dealt with a myriad of lower-body issues, an injury once again derailed a promising start to the year for Wilkins.
Even though Wilkins won’t be able to get on the field again this season, it doesn’t mean he will be less involved with the team. As one of the veteran receivers in the locker room, Wilkins knows that he has an important role as a leader to guide the freshmen that are stepping up in his absence.
With two seasons of eligibility remaining due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a redshirt year in 2018, Wilkins will likely return next season. By keeping the same mindset that he had coming into this year, he knows that he will be able to make game-changing plays for the Irish offense.
“The first two years, for sure, [I was] just a renter,” Wilkins said. “You’re just getting by, just checking the boxes. That’s a terrible mindset to have, but that’s what I had. Now, it’s the details. You’re doing it for a reason. It’s your time.”