Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Wilkerson looking forward to homecoming
Arkansas designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson heads to first against Grambling State during third the inning Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Going to Mississippi State this weekend will be a reminder for KJ Wilkerson of how far he has come.
Wilkerson began his playing career with the Bulldogs as a wide receiver for football coach Dan Mullen. It was after he arrived on campus he felt his calling as a baseball player, walking on to the team in the fall of 2011 before transferring to Pearl River Community College, where he played two seasons.
"I'm looking forward to it," Wilkerson said. "I've got a lot of friends on the team and a lot of friends that go to the school.
"One of the starting pitchers, Jacob Lindgren, went to high school with me. I know him pretty well. A couple of other guys on the team I played with and are from my area as well."
Wilkerson was a star receiver in high school, leading the nation with 2,114 receiving yards as a senior in 2009 at St. Stanislaus High School in Bay St. Louis, Miss. He caught 109 passes for 25 touchdowns that season to lead his team to a championship in the state's second-largest classification and said it was an easy choice to pick the Bulldogs.
"I went through a whole year of redshirt football at Mississippi State," Wilkerson said. "It was real tough. I found out my body could go a whole lot further than I thought it could.
"Coming out of high school if I had to pick one of the two sports, football was my favorite. While I was there I decided to try out the baseball thing and eventually just fell in love with it and decided to go that route. I didn't see my football career going much further, like I had almost reached my ceiling. I felt like I could improve a lot more at baseball and be a starter on an SEC team somewhere."
Wilkerson began the season well for the Razorbacks, recording six hits - including a home run - in his first series before suffering an injury that kept him out of the second weekend of play. Wilkerson has one of the team's top batting averages and on-base percentages, though he has a high number of strikeouts and went through an 0-for-15 slump at the plate entering last weekend's series against Alabama.
"Baseball is definitely a game of peaks and valleys, and you've got to grind through the valleys," Wilkerson said. "You've just got to come out every day to get better."
Wilkerson said he enjoyed his time at Mississippi State, but said he had to leave in order to get more playing time and become a better baseball player.
"I'm not sure where I would be now had I stayed at Mississippi State," Wilkerson said. "I think without junior college I wouldn't have developed into the player I am now.
"It's all worked out in the end. God has a plan for you so you just have to follow that. Sometimes it takes you all over the place, like for myself, but you just have to trust that plan."