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September 20, 2013
The second-year Wildcats head coach has made it no secret that one of his good friends in the coaching fraternity is Jeff Tedford, the former California head coach who was fired following the 2012 season after 11 years with the Bears.
Cal happens to be linebacker David Wilkerson's previous destination before transferring in mid-August. Wilkerson also knew current UA offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, who left the Bears this past offseason.
Wilkerson officially joined the Wildcats last Saturday and started practicing with the team this week. Rodriguez said a call from Tedford started it all.
"[Tedford] said, 'Hey, I think we've got a really good linebacker who played for me that's interested in maybe transferring to Arizona,'" Rodriguez recalled.
"I'm excited about him. I think he's a good football player. He's got a chance to get his shoulder stronger, get a year ahead academically. I think we could get a couple good years out of him."
Wilkerson played for the Bears from 2010-12, although he missed all of last season with an injury. And it was the capper to a career riddled with injuries.
After his true freshman season, Wilkerson was awarded a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending injury after just three games. But he returned the following year to appear in 10 games - three starts - and rack up 17 tackles, including 5 1/2 for a loss and four sacks.
Coming out of high school, Wilkerson was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com.
"He's a big dude," UA senior linebacker Jake Fischer said of the 6-2, 238-pounder.
"I heard he's a great player. It's a great addition. ?. I can't wait to see what he can get out and do."
Listed as a walk-on junior, the Danville, Calif., native must sit out this season, per NCAA transfer rules. But given his past injury history, Rodriguez was optimistic that Wilkerson - who is now nursing a pectoral injury - will play two seasons for the Wildcats, with the potential to see some time as a pass-rushing end.
After the 2014 season, Wilkerson will be allowed to petition for a sixth year of eligibility.
"With past history and similar cases, he should have two," said Rodriguez, who sees the addition as low-risk, high-reward since the move does not cost the Wildcats a scholarship.
"I think he's hungry to prove himself."
Fischer has an idea of what it's like to return from an injury and perform well. He was sidelined for the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, returned last year and led the team with 119 tackles.
The time away from the field provided a different view of the game, Fischer said.
"It's hard," Fischer said. "But, at the same time, when you look at it you learn what an offense tries to attack. You learn what the offense is trying to do.
"You learn a lot and you get a lot smarter. ? You take a lot of mental reps, and then when you get in there you don't think twice about it. You just go play. I'm pretty sure that's what he's doing and he's probably going to be better for it."