MOBILE, Ala. -- Heading into his senior year at Georgia Southern University, J.J. Wilcox not only changed positions, but switched sides of the football.
Wilcox went from a running back, which he was converted to after his freshman season, to a safety. However, he made the most of the position change and earned All-Southern Conference accolades from three media outlets. Wilcox started 13 of Georgia Southern’s 14 games and was second on the team with 88 total tackles. He intercepted two passes, broke up three others, and also returned 31 kicks for 780 yards for the Eagles, who made it to the national semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“Jeff Monkin, my head coach, came to me in the offseason. He was like, ‘Hey, I need some leadership in the secondary,’” Wilcox recalled. “He asked me if I would be up for the challenge, and I said, ‘Most definitely.’ I never back down from a challenge. When he first came, I was a receiver. He moved me to running back, and then, moved me to safety. I thank him for this move because without him, I wouldn’t be here. I definitely want to thank him and I’m definitely glad to be here.”
Wilcox has impressed South coach Jim Schwartz with his play during the early part of the week leading up to Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
“A football player’s a football player,” Schwartz said. “It’s not surprising. To come that far from a lower level of competition, and not only change positions, but make it to the Senior Bowl, says a lot about him.”
Before moving over to the defense, Wilcox started eight of 13 games for the Eagles as a junior, including all three of the team’s playoff contests. His total of 480 rushing yards on 52 carries was fourth on the team. He averaged better than nine yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns. During his sophomore season, Wilcox set a school record by averaging 25 yards per catch when he turned 22 receptions into 551 yards. Twelve of his plays when for at least 20 yards and he caught three of the team’s five touchdown receptions.
Although he was used to being on the offensive side of the football, Wilcox enjoyed “the physical aspect” of the position switch to defense. He also felt the offensive training helped him make an immediate impact on defense.
“Instead of getting hit, you get to deliver hits,” Wilcox said. “You can just roam around a little bit. It’s a little freedom. Offense is kind of different. You know what you’ve got to do and you have to do it. Defense gives you a little bit more room just to hit people. That’s the fun part of the game.
“It definitely has (helped) with ball skills, hip movement and foot drills. As a wide receiver, you have to have good feet, good hips and good hands. That definitely helped me transfer into the DB I am now. I know the route combinations because I played receiver.”
During the week of practice and the game itself at the 2013 Senior Bowl, Wilcox is looking to further develop his skills.
“It’s a challenge; it’s definitely a challenge,” Wilcox said. “Day-in and day-out, you have to do extra stuff to catch up to these guys. There’s great talent. In college, you may have a weakness somewhere, but everybody here is NFL-caliber, NFL-speed and it’s different. Everybody, every day, every second that you’re out here, you have to prove something. I just have to show that I can play with the big guys. It doesn’t matter where you come from. You have to step up and play ball. Talent is everywhere.“I think my greatest aspect right now is my athleticism. I can move, am very versatile, have good speed, good hands, good ball control. You can always improve. I can always improve through repetition. I’m a one-year starter here, but when a team picks me, they’re going to get a lot of stuff that comes behind it. The more repetitions I get, the better I can be, and that’s what I strive to be.”