Like several of his defensive teammates, Kylan Wilborn was thrust into the fire last season as a true freshman asked to play against mostly older and more experienced opponents.
The overall results weren’t pretty, with the Arizona Wildcats allowing 34.4 points per game and ranking near the bottom nationally in most defensive statistics.
Wilborn is the first to admit he was flying relatively blind in 2017, when the defensive end/linebacker—known as a “stud” in coordinator Marcel Yates’ system—started all 13 games.
“Last year it was more of just, I know I have this assignment on this play,” Wilborn said Monday. “This year I’m kind of understanding why. Being a sophomore, I think, the game is kind of slower now. I feel a lot more mature in terms of the playbook and what we want to do.”
Wilborn finished last season with 33 tackles (9.5 for loss) and a team-high 7.5 sacks, the latter number tops among power-conference freshmen. He suffered a shoulder injury early in Arizona’s Foster Farms Bowl loss to Purdue, and had he remained in the game the Wildcats might not have given up a touchdown with 1:44 left.
“It’s something I definitely think about a lot, it wasn’t the way I wanted to end my season,” Wilborn said. “Definitely pushes me to work harder in the weight room.”
Arizona logged 31 sacks as a team last year, which tied for 38th nationally, and its 19 interceptions were among the most in the country. But on the majority of pass plays the Wildcats never came close to putting pressure on opposing passers, leading to the secondary getting torched to the tune of 286.1 yards allowed per game.
“It’s definitely rough on the guys in the secondary when the guys up front aren’t getting to the quarterback and getting in his face,” Wilborn said. “I feel bad for those guys, it makes me want to work harder. If I’m not doing my job I’m just making it harder for them.”
Wilborn expects Arizona’s defense to make big strides this fall, not just because most of the starters are back but also because Yates is handling linebackers as in addition to his coordinator duties.
“It’s pretty great, I would say, to have a guy who’s more focused on the front seven,” he said. “With him being my position coach it helps.”