It wasn’t just Khalil Tate whose 2018 season couldn’t live up to the hype, much less the results of the year before.
Kylan Wilborn was in the same boat, though the defensive end’s inability to replicate past success was given far less attention than Arizona’s quarterback. In fact, Wilborn was almost a forgotten man on the Wildcat defense last year, which is hard to believe is possible for a former Freshman All-American.
“You can have a bad season and it happens,” said Wilborn, now a junior, of his sophomore slump. “It was more of a learning experience than something I’m using to further my growth as a player.”
Wilborn started seven games last season at the Stud position but managed only 14 tackles (three for loss) along with two sacks and a forced fumble. That paled in comparison to his 2017 numbers: 9.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, the sack tally tops among power-conference true freshmen and the FF number best overall in the Pac-12.
That landed him the FWAA and USA Today Freshman All-American teams, combining with Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler to form the corps of a young, up-and-coming defense for Arizona.
But while Fields and Schooler kept progressing, Wilborn took a step back. Coach Kevin Sumlin said during training camp that the 6-foot-2, 242-pound junior was “nicked up last year,” something Wilborn confirmed Tuesday without elaborating on what troubled him physically.
“Being injured is always part of the game,” he said. “Playing through stuff is what you always try to do. I did have a few injuries that I tried to nurse throughout the season.”
Fully healthy now, big things are again expected of Wilborn.
“He’s got what guys refer to as twitch,” Sumlin said. “He can get off the ball, he’s got great hands, he can rush the passer.”
Added defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei: “I see Kylan getting a lot of reps. He’s doing really well for us right now.”
What will it take for that to happen?
“Just kind of going back to your basics, going back to the fundamentals,” Wilborn said. “Looking back and seeing what I needed to do better. Just keeping it simple, just going out there and playing football. It’s how I got here.”
Wilborn is listed as junior JB Brown’s backup at one defensive end position on the pre-Hawaii depth chart, but Arizona intends on frequently rotating defensive linemen this season, so he figures to see plenty of snaps on Saturday and beyond.
“It’s amazing,” Wilborn said of Arizona’s defensive line depth. “It’s something we haven’t had for a minute, just being able to substitute guys.”