USF player deals with abuse after The Tackle

Tampa Bay Times - - Colleges - BY JOEY KNIGHT Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — Only after the USF reg­u­lar sea­son ended did its most ex­pe­ri­enced cor­ner­back truly get torched.

In the form of in­cen­di­ary bombs tossed his way on so­cial me­dia. Mazzi Wilkins has been as­saulted with threats, pro­fan­i­ties and la­bels such as “thug,” “punk” and worse.

Pre­sum­ably, many have come from UCF’s fan base, or at least the bow­els of it.

“Oh yeah, I got so much back­lash,” Wilkins, now train­ing for the NFL draft in Min­nesota, said by phone Fri­day. “It got re­ally bad.”

This has been Wilkins’ life since Nov. 23, when his le­gal tackle (no penalty was called) on McKen­zie Mil­ton re­sulted in a ca­reer-jeop­ar­diz­ing right knee in­jury to the UCF quar­ter­back.

Mil­ton sus­tained a knee dis­lo­ca­tion and nerve dam­age, and he al­ready has had a hand­ful of surg­eries.

“I made that tackle so many other times and noth­ing bad ever has hap­pened,” Wilkins said. “And then just this one time, just a freak ac­ci­dent.”

Wilkins has watched the play count­less times and said he doesn’t sec­ond-guess do­ing what he was taught “from the first time I put on a hel­met.”

In man-to-man cov­er­age on the short side of the field at Ray­mond James Sta­dium, Wilkins saw Mil­ton keep the ball and sprint right. After shed­ding a blocker, Wilkins low­ered his head and hit Mil­ton below the waist.

The en­su­ing vit­riol went below the belt.

“You never want to hurt any­body,” said Wilkins, a Plant High alum­nus who fin­ished his USF ca­reer with three in­ter­cep­tions and 19 pass breakups.

“If you watch the tape you can tell that I felt sorry once it hap­pened. But I got threats against my par­ents, against my mom un­der my In­sta­gram pic­tures. Peo­ple go­ing on Face­book, Twit­ter, ev­ery­thing.”

When the bar­rage be­came un­bear­able, Wilkins said he deleted a lot of the tweets and mes­sages, but he saved some.

A tweet, from @MyManMoyer, called Wilkins “the dirt­i­est player in the NCAA.” In a di­rect mes­sage, @bob­bledthes­nap said: “(Ex­ple­tive) dirty (ex­ple­tive) scum­bag (ex­ple­tive). They teach you to tackle like that in prac­tice? Punk (ex­ple­tive) (ex­ple­tive) (ex­ple­tive).”

“I didn’t want to keep see­ing it,” said Wilkins, who is one course from com­plet­ing his de­gree in health sciences. “It was start­ing to bother me, so I just blocked ev­ery per­son that sent me things like that. I might have one or two left; I still get one ev­ery now and then from some­body.”

Wilkins said he hasn’t spo­ken di­rectly with Mil­ton since the play, but he would like to. Roughly two hours after the game, a 38-10 UCF vic­tory, Wilkins sent a tweet in­di­cat­ing he was pray­ing for Mil­ton and wish­ing him a “speedy re­cov­ery.”

Mil­ton, mean­time, con­tin­ues mak­ing as­tound­ing progress in his re­cov­ery, re­leas­ing a short In­sta­gram video Wed­nes­day show­ing him press­ing 40 pounds with his right leg. He is set for an­other surgery on Jan. 25, ac­cord­ing to his mother.

“I just feel bad that it had to hap­pen like that, and it had to hap­pen to such a great player that he is,” Wilkins said.

MON­ICA HERN­DON | Times

UCF’s McKen­zie Mil­ton went down after a le­gal tackle byUSF cor­ner­back Mazzi Wilkins, se­verely in­jur­ing his right knee.

Mazzi Wilkins

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