After a long season spent watching from the sidelines, Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins is on pace to return for the Rebels this fall.
Wilkins was declared ineligible for the 2016 season after failing to enroll in the required number of course hours. Players starting their fourth year must have finished at least 60 percent of their curriculum; Wilkins had not.
While the redshirt junior was disheartened by his ineligible status, his response spoke volumes of his maturity.
“The easy thing to do is point fingers but that’s not the right way,” Wilkins said in a Facebook post. “I will handle this like a man and this is just an obstacle in life that I will overcome and keep going. Life is full of ups and downs. It’s about how you respond.”
Wilkins carried the football 72 times during the 2015 season for a total of 379 yards and four touchdowns, all the while splitting time with Akeem Judd. He hopes to bounce back this fall and continue improving his numbers.
While the changing dynamic within the football program will be an adjustment for the seasoned running back, Wilkins said he is glad to be back and ready to get into the thick of things.
“It’s a new offense, new coaches, new players, new teammates and a new family for me, so coming in and learning this offense has been really fun,” Wilkins said.
Experienced and ready to lead, Wilkins spoke humbly of his role in the coming season.
“Whatever my role is to coach Longo, if he wants me inside the red zone to pound it in, I will,” he said. “If he wants me to be that second team leader, I’ll be that second team leader. I’ll do whatever it takes to help this offense out.”
Derrick Nix, running backs coach, has taken notice of Wilkins’ work ethic and attitude.
“It’s something we’ve always preached,” Nix said. “That’s more of a mindset with him, though, that just comes with time and more maturity. I think it’s sprinkling down to our whole offense.”
The Rebels are also returning junior Eric Swinney, among others, as Nix hopes to improve an already talented running back group.
“I’m really pleased with all of them,” Nix said “They’re all pushing each other. They’re friendly but pushing each other to be the very best.”
While Wilkins and Swinney remain day-to-day, with knee and head injuries, respectively, the Ole Miss coaching staff is optimistic they will both be healthy in time for the season’s start.
The Rebels open the season up at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday at home as they host the University of South Alabama Jaguars.