More Story: Joe Wilkins Jr. preparing to play two positions at Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Joe Wilkins Jr. was recruited as a cornerback to Notre Dame.

That’s despite the fact that the 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior from North Fort Myers (Fla.) High took up the position just prior to his junior season. For the majority of his life, Wilkins Jr. was a wide receiver.

He might soon be one again.

“(Cornerbacks) coach Todd Lyght just yesterday called me and told me I’m going to be playing both ways,” Wilkins Jr. said on Feb. 13. “He told me to get that in my mindset now. I’m stoked about it. I told this to (running backs coach Autry) Denson and to coach Lyght when they were first recruiting me and first offered me. I was like, ‘Listen, I’m not really a corner. They just put me at corner last year because I’m athletic.’ ”

Still, Wilkins Jr. found consistent success on both sides of the ball. In his senior season in 2017, the consensus three-star prospect recorded 34 catches for 616 yards and six touchdowns, plus 36 tackles and two interceptions.

But which position will benefit both Wilkins Jr. and Notre Dame the most?

“That’s to be determined, but we’ll know soon enough,” Lyght said on national signing day on Feb. 7. “He’s a team-first guy, so for Joe it doesn’t matter what side of the ball he plays on, just as long as he can contribute to the team in a positive way.”

Wilkins Jr. is willing to contribute in any way possible.

But, if you were to ask him where he’s more comfortable, the answer is exceedingly clear.

“I have so much confidence at wide receiver,” said Wilkins Jr., who was named North Fort Myers’ team MVP this month. “This year my stats weren’t really crazy because we had a really good team and our coach wanted to share the ball, but I was deadly at wide receiver, man.

“That’s my mindset: I really don’t think anybody can stick me. Nobody can really guard me at wide receiver.”

If he were to stick at that position, Notre Dame would have plenty of freshmen cornerbacks to test Wilkins Jr.’s hypothesis. Besides Wilkins Jr., the Irish signed four other corners in 2018: Houston Griffith, Noah Boykin, Tariq Bracy and D.J. Brown.

Notre Dame also signed four wide receivers: Lawrence Keys, Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin and Micah Jones.

That’s a lot of competition, regardless of where he lands. But Wilkins Jr. isn’t afraid of it … at wide receiver, or even corner.

“I know coach Lyght wants me at corner and I know if he can teach me some stuff at corner, and I can get some tips from him, as a 6-2 cornerback, I can make it to the (NFL): no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

No ifs, ands or buts, but plenty of lingering questions.

Wilkins Jr.’s play will provide the answers when he arrives at Notre Dame in June. But Lyght, for one, would be plenty comfortable with adding yet another freshman corner.

“I love the way he competes on both sides of the ball,” Lyght said. “His length and his ball skills can really make him an outstanding boundary corner. For us, his background is on the offensive side of the ball, which is OK. But he came along his senior year defensively, becoming a more sure tackler.

“I think with his length and speed, he can become an outstanding press corner.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

His father was murdered before he was born. His mother juggled multiple jobs to support him and his sisters. Now, Notre Dame signee Joe Wilkins Jr. is living his dream for both of them.

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