Football: Merrillville season preview
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or email@example.com
Senior Kevin Wilkerson of the Merrillville High School varsity football team poses following a practice at the school in Merrillville, Indiana, Wednesday August 1, 2012. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media
At school: 56-20 (seventh year)
Overall: 56-20 (seventh year)
Lost 42-21 to Crown Point in sectional final
QB Jake Raspopovich
WR Aaron Dye
DL Kevin Wilkerson
RB Dylon Collins
S Tyrie Fuller
K Matt Warren
S/HB Kourtney Berry (Ala. State)
CB Will Isabell (Alcorn State)
DE/OT Paul Carey
LB/RB Darryl Peppers
OT Brandon Spencer
Merrillville again has the makings of a top-level team. The Pirates, who shared the DAC title with Lake Central last season, return plenty of talent at the skill positions. That list includes two-year starting QB Jake Raspopovich (173-of-292, 2,057 yards, 12 TD; 159 rushes, 551 yards, 7 TD) — he also started at wide receiver as a sophomore — who recently verbally committed to Texas Pan-American for basketball; Aaron Dye (46 catches, 691 yards, 7 TD), the area’s leader in receptions; and RB Dylon Collins, who showed his ability late in the season after gaining full eligibility following his transfer from Bowman. Kevin Wilkerson, Frank Webster (as a sophomore) and Quentin Lacey-Blackwell all started on the DL, as did Tyrie Fuller at safety as a sophomore. The Pirates again open the season against perennial power Warren Central, this time at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Aug. 17 Warren Cent. (Lucas Oil)
Aug. 24 Andrean
Aug. 31 Crown Point
Sept. 7 at Portage
Sept. 14 Michigan City
Sept. 21 at LaPorte
Sept. 28 Valparaiso
Oct. 5 Lake Central
Oct. 12 at Chesterton
Oct. 19 Class 5A Sectional 1
As a sophomore at Merrillville, Kevin Wilkerson started at defensive tackle.
As a junior, he started at defensive tackle.
As a senior for the Pirates?
Wilkerson was expected to slide over to defensive end.
“It’s pretty much the same,” he said. “I still have to play my gap. It’s just outside contain now.”
He did add, however: “I like playing D-end. You’re more free just to go and hit somebody.”
This season, the Pirates have some bigger bodies inside at tackle, allowing the 6-foot, 220-pound Wilkerson to move outside to end.
“Really, he can play all four line spots,” Merrillville coach Zac Wells said. “He could play linebacker, too, if he had to. He’s that athletic, and he plays well in space.”
As a three-year starter in his final season with the Pirates, Wilkerson was looking forward to taking on an expanded leadership role.
“I read my keys, I have more of a feel for the game,” he said. “It’s just straight to the point now.
“I just want to be more of a team player, know when to take control of certain situations. I have to go hard all the time, and make sure my teammates are going hard all the time, too.
“We’re looking pretty good. We lost a lot of key players, but we have a lot of potential. You want to have an undefeated season — that’s how you have to think. But it can go either way, anything can happen. You don’t want to project anything bad happening, and I just want to do my part to make sure we have a good overall season.”
Wilkerson has drawn the attention of college programs. He has received an offer from Ferris State, a Division II school in Michigan, and should see his range of options, perhaps including at the Division I level, increase with another outstanding season.
“I’m working hard, and it makes me feel good that somebody is watching me and taking notice of what I’m doing,” Wilkerson said. “I’ll take anything I can get, anywhere is good. I’ll take a free education — that’s a great opportunity.”
With Wilkerson’s performance on and off the field, it comes as no surprise that he has put himself in position to play beyond high school.
“He’s a coach’s dream,” Wells said. “He’s a no-nonsense type of kid.
He just works hard.
“He’s a little undersized, but he’s explosive — coaches really like his explosiveness. He’s just a great kid.”