By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Jay Wilkerson will officially catch passes as a Division-I wide receiver in 2020. It just won’t be where many around the country thought he’d suit up.
In front of friends, family, teammates and coaches, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound standout wide receiver inked his National Letter of Intent with Washington State University inside the gymnasium at Midlothian Heritage High School.
Before signing his NLI, Wilkerson thanked those in attendance for their support, noting “without you all, I wouldn’t be here.” He also passed praise to his teachers, principals, close friends, coaches, teammates and parents.
“I want to thank my dad for being the best role model that a son could as for and teaching me what an honest man truly is,” he said. “I want to thank my mom for teaching me that, with God, all things are possible. I thank God every day for putting all of these people in my life because they have made me who I am today.
“This has been a great chapter in my life, but I will continue to remember that the next chapter will be even better. I also want to thank all of the universities that gave me an opportunity to play football for them, especially Hawaii, but I am proud to announce that I am signing with…”
Wilkerson then sat down his phone, shifted the mic to his left hand and pulled a maroon Cougar ballcap out of his blue backpack tucked underneath the red Heritage Athletics tablecloth.
“Go Cougs,” he added to a gymnasium full of applause.
The 12 family members in attendance followed his lead by unzipping their sweaters to reveal WSU gear that Wilkerson and his mother, Gail, picked up from the Cougar campus store and a second in-town boutique on Saturday. Gail noted they spent the better half of the afternoon on the phone confirming sizes. She also couldn’t hide her smile, pride or anxious anticipation while seated on the first row of the bleachers.
The decision to sign with the Pac-12 and Power-5 university came as a bit of a shock, as Wilkerson had previously announced his verbal commitment to the University of Hawaii just after 3 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Roughly 20 days later, however, Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich agreed to a contract with Washington State University. That announcement came just five days after Mississippi State University officials released the details on the hire of Mike Leach as its head football coach.
Leach served as the head football coach for the Cougars from 2012-19.
It was WSU’s Jan. 13 hiring of Rolovich that gave Wilkerson pause.
Wilkerson stated his decision to sign with Washington State ultimately boiled down to the reason he initially committed to the University of Hawaii: The coaches and “vibe” around the program. He flew down with his mother on Friday and knew he would follow the staff to Pullman by midday Saturday.
During an on-air interview with KBEC Sports’ “The Press Box” in late December, Wilkerson explained the family-culture he felt on campus in Honolulu was largely created by Rolovich and Andre Allen, who was officially named the wide receivers’ coach at WSU on Monday.
“Ever since I met them and talked with coach Rolo on the phone for almost two hours, I just got this feeling that I could be around them all day, every day,” Wilkerson said. “And that is what you want with a school and when you are playing football. But it’s also what you want when you are becoming a man and going off to a university. He has been, by far, the coolest head coach that I have met during my recruiting.”
Wednesday could be seen as a de-commitment, and likely will, by some fans and pundits around the college football landscape. It should, however, been seen as the high school senior honoring his initial commitment. While Honolulu is nice, he made it clear before and again just before ink hit paper that his commitment was to the coaching staff — not the school.
It was the right decision for his future, let’s not argue that. There’s also no debating just how dominant he was while on the field for the Jaguars.
Wilkerson caught 66 passes for 1,226 yards and 15 touchdowns — all team-highs — this season to help Midlothian Heritage to a 9-5 overall record and the first-ever regional final appearance in Midlothian ISD history.
As a junior and playing alongside Langston Anderson, an Oklahoma State University redshirt freshman, Wilkerson caught 63 passes for 1,148 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He ultimately finished his Heritage career with 3,317 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns on 181 catches. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception over his career, which included starting in all 13 playoff games over the program’s four-year existence.
Wilkerson was named the Jaguars’ Team MVP, selected to the KBEC Sports All-Ellis County first-team and (snubbed due to an error by a DMN reporter) was an Associated Press All-State honoree following his 2019 campaign. He was also selected as a Built Ford Tough Player of the Week in 2018, among other accolades.
“Time and time again, he has made big play after big play and the biggest of plays in the biggest of games,” Heritage head football coach Lee Wiginton said. “It’s been a joy to watch him play. But the thing about Jay that really stands out to me is the type of teammate he is. And his boys that have been with him forever or the guys that just got to know him through sports will all say the exact same thing. He just loves the game, but I think what he loves more than that is when his teammates do something good.
“He is as talented an athlete that there is at any level, but he genuinely gets excited when one of his teammates does something well and he will be the first to celebrate. He could go through a game and not one pass be thrown to him and he’ll be the exact same Jay as if he does his normal thing with 250 yards receiving. He just loves to play the game and loves to make the experience of everyone around him, including the fans, just that much better.”
Wiginton added that while he will miss the player, he will miss the person even more. “He just makes my life better each and every day.”
Wilkerson is listed as a two-star recruit by Rivals.com and three-star by 247Sports (145th best WR in the nation, 125th best recruit in Texas, 986th best recruit nationally).
ESPN, meanwhile, gave Wilkerson a three-star grade, while also ranking him 99th overall in Texas and 113th WR in the nation.
Prior to his recent decision-making visit to Pullman, Washington, the wide receiver had previously taken official trips to Hawaii, Southern Methodist University, Texas Tech and Kansas before committing.
Wilkerson also received Division-I offers from Hawaii, Arkansas State, University of Illinois, Illinois State, Kansas, Lousiana Tech, Minnesota, University of North Texas, Oklahoma State, Rutgers, SMU, Texas Tech, Tulsa, Southern Mississippi, Toledo, Liberty and Colorado State.
All photos by Travis M. Smith/KBEC Sports
By way of the Hunter Wilkerson Memorial Fund, Jay Wilkerson also serves as an advocate for the Mentors Care program based in Midlothian, which provides at-risk teens with a mentor to help encourage the student to graduate high school. For more information on the upcoming fourth annual Hunter Wilkerson Memorial Golf Tournament or to learn how you can donate a silent or live auction item, contact Lauren Wilkerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Stacy Wilkerson at email@example.com.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith