FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona football team travels to Las Vegas to renew a regional rivalry with the UNLV Rebels Saturday at 7 p.m. Leading the defensive effort will be Las Vegas native Tim Wilkinson, who gets a rare opportunity to play in his hometown.
"I always try to play with fire but I am going to have a lot of friends and family coming to support me so I can't disappoint them," said Wilkinson, who was an all-state product out of Bishop Gorman High School.
He helped his high school team to division, conference and state titles (2007, 2009) during his career. He recorded 67 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a senior to help Gorman go undefeated and win the state title in 2009 and was one of nine players from the school to earn Division I scholarship.
Wilkinson hopes to have a bigger impact as a junior. He saw action in all 11 games in 2010 as a true freshman and earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention honors last season. He was selected the Outstanding Sophomore of the Year on defense at the team banquet after recording 30 tackles with a team-best 6.0 tackles for loss.
The difference for Wilkinson in 2012 is better conditioning after a summer in Flagstaff preparing for the season.
"I came in able to play and was strong enough," said Wilkinson, who has dropped 15 pounds. "The problem was my conditioning. I made every workout in the summer and stayed strong. I lost the weight but I can better perform like I did last year. I am quicker laterally. I had that twitch but I am that much quicker now."
NAU (0-1) and UNLV (0-1) are meeting for the eighth time in school history with the Rebels holding a 5-2 advantage in the series. The two schools last met in the 1992 season, a 40-7 victory by UNLV in Las Vegas. NAU is playing back-to-back Football Bowl Subdivision games in the same season for the third time in school history (2006, 2009).
Despite the tough opening loss at Arizona State, Wilkinson says the team is ready to move forward this week.
"I am from a winning high school program and I know what it feels like with the aurora and the confidence," said Wilkinson. "We feel it here. We have to keep working and getting better every day. We have a good team."
The game can be heard on 105.1 FM The Big Talker in northern Arizona, online and via The Big Talker mobile app.