Rod Wilks moved around a lot in recent years but ultimately stayed put.
The 2007 Mr. Football winner from Smyrna changed positions often during his first four seasons at the University of Tennessee but never transferred. Now, with his final set of spring workouts underway the 6-foot, 217-pounder looks to nail down a starting spot in the secondary.
"I have no choice really,” he said. “This is my last year and my dream is to make it big. Hopefully if God blesses me, I can do that one day.
“I just have to go out and keep working."
Wilks is one of five leading candidates projected for the four starting positions in UT’s defensive backfield. Between them, those players have a combined 58 starts, including 27 by Prentiss Wagner, Wilks’ roommate and close friend.
In his college career, during which he has been a safety, linebacker and wide receiver (some more than once), Wilks has played a total of 29 games — with no starts. He entered the spring as the No. 1 free safety on the Volunteers’ depth chart.
“Depth means we have a lot of guys with some good skill sets that we can try to figure out who our best four or five guys are, coach Derek Dooley said. “I don't know the answer to that. It's going to be a real puzzle back there because we have about 10 or 12 guys competing for five spots."
Wilks had a team-high eight special teams tackles 2011. In the Volunteers’ overtime victory over Vanderbilt in their next-to-last game, he played extensively on defense and had a career-high seven tackles plus a fumble recovery.
It was the first time he produced any sort of personal momentum.
Following a redshirt year on the defense, he played all 13 games in 2009 and made one reception as a wide receiver. The next year he appeared in four contests and made two special teams tackles.
"It's been pretty tough on him,” Wagner, who has played both safety and cornerback said. “I can tell because we are roommates and we talk about it all the time. This whole offseason we have been getting into that playbook, me and him. We've been staying up all times of nights, we even created a couple plays on the NCAA football game to put our playbook in there to try get it as best as possible."
At Smyrna, Wilks was a two-time all-state selection, the defensive MVP of the 2007 state championship game and the 2007 Class 5A Mr. Football Back of the Year. He was considered one of the state’s top 10 recruits following his senior year.
"It made me stronger,” Wilks said of his college career thus far. “It made a man out of me. I never quit and I never ran from the situation I was in. I stayed focused and I stayed positive. I just had the strength to keep going.
“Sometimes you just have to wait and be patient and learn. I just kept my faith. My teammates, my brothers, my coaches just told me to keep working and that's what I did."