TEMPE, Ariz. — Manny Wilkins won’t change who he is, or the aggressive playing style with which he approaches the game now that Blake Barnett has been added to the Arizona State football team’s depth chart.
“They can bring in whoever they want. I really don’t care,” the redshirt junior quarterback said. “I’m going to stick to who I am and I live for competition. That’s what makes this game worth watching.”
Wilkins is coming off an injury-plagued and uneven season in which he completed 197-of-311 passes (63.3 percent) for 2,329 yards, 12 TDs and nine interceptions.
The landscape has changed dramatically since he won the starting quarterback battle with Brady White, however. Barnett, a heralded pocket passer in the 2015 recruiting class, transferred from Alabama, White and Dillon Sterling-Cole have had more time in the program to acclimate to its expectations and intricacies, Bryce Perkins is hungry after a season lost to a neck injury and the Devils have added local kid Ryan Kelley from Chandler Basha High School.
The Devils also have a new offensive coordinator in Billy Napier, who replaced Chip Lindsey, who replaced Mike Norvell the season before. Napier came from Alabama and knows Barnett well. Both Napier and coach Todd Graham made it plain at last week’s spring mini-media day that the QB competition is a “clean slate.”
None of this ruffles Wilkins’ cool exterior.
“My mindset hasn’t changed one bit; I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been,” he said. “There’s change all the time.
“I think when coach Norvell left, that was when I started to figure things out about how college football works. I think, with coach Graham included, there’s only two or three guys that I started this whole thing with. That’s just the world we live in.”
Wilkins wasn’t immune to criticism last season, but he insists he can cope with it.
“There’s going to be scrutiny and people being negative, but that comes with being a quarterback,” he said. “One thing I have learned is all that doesn’t matter, the stories written about you don’t matter. What matters is when you’re on that field, do you perform or do you not perform?”
Graham said performing at a consistently high level was difficult for Wilkins last season due to a rash of injuries, including a high ankle sprain, foot and shoulder injuries.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young man be more courageous and how tough he was because he was never healthy after the USC game [on Oct. 1],” Graham said. “He showed an incredible amount of heart and impressed me a great deal.
“What I took from [last season] is when he was healthy, we were in a good position. I’m anxious and excited for him to be healthy and anxious to see him compete as we move forward in spring.”
Graham said Wilkins, like most starters, would at least begin spring ball on March 14 by running with the first team, but Wilkins knows what lies ahead and he is not concerned that his style of play might lead to more injuries.
“There are going to be nicks that bug me for a bit until I get onto the field and get things rolling,” he said. “When you get hurt, it’s 50 percent health and 50 percent mental. When you step on a different ligament or bone and it doesn’t feel the same, your mind tells you you’re still hurt. But when I start running — football running — for the first time since the Arizona game, it will feel good and my mind will ease into it.”
During his interview sessions last season, particularly after games, Wilkins earned a reputation with fans and media for being curt. He’s aware of that perception but he insists it is not intended as a slight.
“I have always been very humble, I’ve always had a very cool demeanor; never been someone to boast or talk a lot and that won’t change for me,” he said. “I was very short last year in all my interviews and I’m probably going to continue to do that. I’m just hungry and focused on football. There’s a lot more to prove, there’s a lot more to be done and there’s championships to be won.”
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