Redshirt Report: Wingo has tools and ability to be great

May 25, 2021 | 0 comments


FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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During the beginning weeks of the off-season, Inside the Gators will take an in-depth look at how last season went for Florida's 2020 signees and transfers. Normally, the focus is on those who redshirted, but since the NCAA mandated that the 2020 season was 'uncounted' as far as eligibility is concerned, essentially every player redshirted.


Today the Redshirt Report series focuses on the freshman season of linebacker Derek Wingo.

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Utilizing his high football IQ and versatility, Derek Wingo can be a difference-maker in the Florida Gator defense.

Wingo came to the University of Florida from St. Thomas Aquinas High School after Florida flipped the then-four-star recruit from Penn State in June 2019. He later enrolled about a year later as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida.

Roger Harriott, Wingo’s head coach at STA, provided some insight on his former player’s freshman year in Gainesville. Meanwhile, former Miami Dolphin and current STA defensive coordinator Jason Taylor also shed some light on Wingo’s game.

The Raiders are no strangers to sending football talent to the Division I level and then to the NFL. As many know, it’s one of the top high school football programs in the nation. Former Gators such as Jordan Scarlett, Bryan Cox Jr., Major Wright, Marcus Gilbert, and Trevon Grimes are just a few of Florida’s Raider alumni.

Harriott mentioned the school’s holistic learning environment as something that prepares its students effectively.

“Our school staff does a great job preparing all students for today's competitive, complex world,” Harriott said. “As a result, Derek was systemically ready for this next collegiate chapter of his life.”

But St. Thomas wasn’t the only contributing factor to Wingo’s transition. The young defender’s maturity and organizational skills led him to a seamless transition on and off the field and “enabled him to successfully acclimate as an intercollegiate student-athlete.”

Harriott spoke with Wingo about taking advantage of education and other opportunities with his best effort. He told Wingo to keep his eyes on the prize and “forces” right. Forces refers to “great things happen for good people who are devoted to the greater good.”

His former position coach and NFL Hall of Famer Jason Taylor told him to just be coachable, patient, and trust the process while he was at St. Thomas. Taylor joked with Wingo he did a lot things good but nothing great as he saw time at quarterback, safety, tight end, and linebacker with STA.

“He just understood that he's going to find a home and where he’s going to hang his hat and develop,” the four-time All-Pro said about Wingo in high school. “And he listened. He sacrificed. Nobody worked harder than Wingo.”

Obviously, he’s working hard in the Nick Savage program as Harriott saw a transformation in Wingo’s physique after his first year with the Gators. He said Wingo gained 15 pounds and looked great when he saw him last on May 5.

The Fort Lauderdale product appeared in nine games but mostly in a special teams capacity with a little time at linebacker in 2020. But, as St. Thomas prepared him for the transition, the Raider program prepared him to compete on a talented roster.

“STA is a highly competitive environment,” Harriott said. “So, Derek was spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared for the challenge to be a productive member of his Gator football family on and off the field.”

He said Wingo’s instincts as a linebacker improved while at UF and will keep on as he learns the scheme of Todd Grantham’s defense. And he’ll need to keep improving as Florida boasts a talented linebacker room. But, according to Harriott, Wingo “passionately thrives” when faced with competition and he believes Wingo will rise to the occasion.

A big part of Wingo the football player is his mindset as a student of the game. In fact, Harriott said he’s the epitome of it in multiple phases.

His academic foundation lets him process information as an advanced learner. He is comfortable asking questions and he’ll use any available resource to achieve an understanding of different subjects.

Coincidentally, Florida linebacker coach Christian Robinson once said Wingo makes sure Robinson does his job because the linebacker is always texting or calling him with questions.

Taylor can speak to that experience with absolute certainty.

“He's always asking questions, always wanting to know how to do more,” Taylor said. “‘Well, coach, I'm a step away or I'm half a step away, how can I make up that distance in that time? Is it my stance? Is it my take off? Is it my alignment? Is there something to do with my pad level or my hat?’ Then you went from doing those things to starting to ask ‘Well, coach, schematically, why do you like this blitz or this coverage on this down and distance in this part of the field?’ So, he started looking at the game from a different perspective. And that's when that's when kids’ athletic ability and their production on the field just takes off.”

Harriott said Wingo’s time at quarterback during his first two years at St. Thomas Aquinas allowed him to strategically see the game from a “global perspective.”

And while Taylor coached him up when he switched from quarterback to defense, he saw Wingo put in the work to turn himself into a contributor for the Raider defense. They tried him at middle, weakside and strong side linebacker before he found himself at what Taylor called the “jack” role when he won Defensive Player of the Year under Nick Saban in Miami.

However, Wingo had no idea how to play the position. Thus, he listened to his coaches, asked questions every day, tried techniques and stances uncomfortable to him to become a polished product.

“There's things you have to rep every day until it becomes second nature,” Taylor said. “And a lot of kids aren't built like that. A lot of kids want to do the hour-and-a-half practice and then leave. But things can’t become second nature in an hour-and-a-half. It takes an extra hour- and-a-half every day or an extra three hours during the week. And he did that. So, he built himself up to be a premiere elite defender in high school, because he took coaching and because he worked his butt off.”

Now that Wingo has gone through his first spring and will go through a proper summer session with Florida in 2021. To Taylor, that is crucial to his development. The only way to truly improve at football is actually playing football. A player can do all the Zoom meetings, walkthroughs or 7-on-7s he wants but those don’t do as much as playing the sport.

Grantham said in February they’re looking at Wingo at an inside linebacker role. Taylor mentioned how he could play on all three levels in Grantham’s defense.

He called Wingo a playmaker with wiggle who can also get skinny. He could play off the ball at the “Sam” or “Will” linebacker positions and out in space. Albeit, the Raiders didn’t drop him a lot in coverage because Wingo buttered his bread utilizing his tremendous bend rushing the passer.

“I think, for on the level he's at now with Grantham, he could a play down safety in a kind of 4-2-5 package and can definitely play on the edges in Okie (3-4 front) as a rusher and also as a dropper,” Taylor added. “He really improved his ability to move in space. Good fluid, hips. He understands route concepts and route progressions.”

He is passionately obsessed with football. And with a full year under his belt and a defense looking for playmakers, Wingo’s experience, great athleticism, and pragmatic approach can certainly fill a spot on a defense that loves utilizing hybrid players.

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