Missouri linebacker Cale Garrett is always telling Cameron Wilkins to be ready.
“‘Any chance could come at any moment,’” Wilkins said. “I think this is what he was talking about.”
In the aftermath of a pectoral tendon injury to Garrett — one that likely ends his season — Wilkins will start for the Tigers at linebacker Saturday against Ole Miss.
Wilkins, a sophomore, said he hates the way this opportunity has come about, but that he’s ready for his chance.
“I see it as an opportunity for me to show me what I can do,” Wilkins said. “They’re some big shoes, but I think everyone plays differently and that I can do it in my own way.”
Wilkins has had some chances to this point at Mizzou. He’s played in four games this season and is fourth on the team in tackles with 13. He also has two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
“Obviously, Cale is Cale, but we’re excited about Cam as well,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said.
Wilkins, from De Valle, Texas, played in 11 games last season, mainly on special teams. He credits a lot of that to helping him make a smooth adjustment to the college level.
“Being able to get your feet wet on the field and everything, and being able to play at game speed, and the physicality and everything,” he said. “It really helped out.”
Wilkins’ fumble recovery came last week on special teams against Troy, as he picked up a ball forced loose by defensive back Adam Sparks.
According to Wilkins, Garrett was “in high spirits” prior to surgery on his pectoral tendon. Missouri coach Barry Odom echoed positive sentiments about Garrett on Tuesday, and said he thought the linebacker was playing on an “All-American” trajectory.
“He’s built our program,” Odom said. “The standard that he set on the way you’re supposed to prepare and play. He’s got a lot to hold his head high on.”
Odom described Wilkins as smart and athletic. Odom also said that, when it comes to replacing Garrett, Wilkins doesn’t need to do too much, especially considering that Ole Miss may try to key in on the sophomore.
“He just need to do what’s his responsibility within the call,” Odom said. “He does that, we’ll be just fine.”
Odom said Tuesday that he’s still not sure of a timetable on Garrett’s return, but that he’ll sit down with Garrett and his family about discussing a possible medical redshirt. In the meantime, Odom said he hopes the emotions of the injury doesn’t affect his players too much.
From the sound of it, the injury isn’t worrying players too much from a football standpoint. Both Wilkins and Odom said not much will change in how the defense operates in Garrett’s absence.
“(It’s) just another piece of the puzzle that has to be replaced and it will be,” defensive tackle Jordan Elliot said. “It’s just gonna be that we all have to be dialed in, a little bit more focused because Cale really is a great player.”