NCCU SPRING GAME: Wilkins, Billerman shine
N.C. Central wide receiver Adrian Wilkins emerged from the doghouse and made some moves during the Maroon-Gray spring game Friday evening that left first-year head coach Jerry Mack with a creative-writing assignment.
Mack said he’s going to have to draw up some more plays for Wilkins.
“No doubt. He’s a guy that he’s got to touch the ball,” Mack said after NCCU’s Maroon offense beat the Gray defense 41-34 in front of a good-sized crowd at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
The game was tied 25-25 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Maroon team took the lead on Kevin Thompson’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Quinn Billerman tossed a short pass to Wilkins, who gathered it at the 25-yard line and started making moves. Wilkins didn’t stop darting and dodging until he was in the end zone.
“We’ve got to find creative ways to give him the football, and we’ve got to have some guys step up on the perimeter, as well, and in the in the backfield to help him out," Mack said. "He can only do so much. He can’t be a one-man show. So that’s the challenge going into the summer, to see who wants to be the next playmaker on the offensive side of the football.”
Last Saturday, Wilkins watched most of NCCU’s intra-squad scrimmage at Rocky Mount High School. A referee flagged him for spiking the football. Wilkins had just made a nifty play, and the offense was moving the chains in the right direction.
But Wilkins’ penalty stopped the progress, and Mack benched the redshirt junior to teach him a lesson.
Wilkins was very productive in the spring game, catching six passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, both 25-yard scores.
Billerman, a newcomer who transferred from New Mexico Military Institute, said he arrived on campus and started hearing about how Wilkins was this and that.
When spring practice rolled around, Billerman said he understood what all the fuss was about.
“From the first day in spring, you could tell he’s a special player,” Billerman said. “The first day of spring, it was unbelievable. We needed to give him the ball more.”
Billerman completed 14 of 22 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and threw an interception.
Quarterback Malcolm Bell connected on 8 of 12 passes for 136 yards.
Billerman started under center during the spring game, but he’ll have to battle Bell during the summer to determine who’ll direct the offense in the fall, Mack said.
Competition is good, the coach said.
“That’s always a good thing,” Mack said. “Having two guys that can do some things. The good thing is they’re so different, too. They provide a good one-two punch, so to speak.”
The offense did a solid job of making explosive plays to get the ball downfield, Mack said.
“We did a good job running the football,” Billerman said. “Our short passing game was a real big part early on of our success. As we went on in the game, we stretched out the defense more downfield, hitting some long balls.
“Also, Adrian Wilkins. When you’re able to get the ball in his hands, something special is going to happen.”
Wilkins last season was the only player on the Division I Football Championship Subdivision level to score five touchdowns on special teams, taking three kickoffs and two punts to the end zone. He led the Eagles on offense with 37 catches for 427 yards and two touchdowns.
The defensive line did a nice job of pressuring the pocket during the spring game, Mack said.
Defensive end Ty Brown had six tackles, several of them behind the line of scrimmage, including a quarterback sack.
Standard scoring applied for the offense, plus one point for each first down. The defense got four points for each stopped drive, plus a point for an interception or fumble recovery and one point for a three-and-out series.
The spring game was Mack’s first time leading the Eagles during a game-like situation in front of a crowd at O’Kelly-Riddick. There was tailgating, and the stadium lights were on, all of that fueling the players with some extra adrenaline that they needed to effectively channel, Mack said.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but I think we’re making progress,” Mack said. “With only 15 (spring) practices, we can only do so much.”