Florida Gators 2020 Signee Profile: Linebacker Derek Wingo
Derek Wingo, Linebacker
School: St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
247Sports Composite Rating: Four stars, No. 5 OLB, No. 13 state (Fla.), No. 63 national
Once upon a time of what seems like a long time ago, the heavily sought after linebacker prospect Derek Wingo was planning to take his talents to the Big Ten to play for James Franklin's Penn State Nittany Lions before a push by the University of Florida secured the flip.
Playing at one of the best prospect-producing schools in the nation—St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—Wingo received significant attention very early on with offers from power five schools coming in the early summer before his sophomore season.
After receiving an offer from Penn State in the summer going into that year, Wingo would seemingly put his recruitment to rest. Committing to Penn State on Christmas Day of 2018, the talented Florida native was planning to leave the state to continue his playing career up north.
However, leaving high school with 29 total offers from Penn State, Ohio State, Oregon, Georgia, and Florida along with others, Wingo had a wide range of options to choose from.
With Florida making a hard push for the linebacker's talents in the summer of 2019—via linebackers coach Christian Robinson and co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales as his primary recruiters—Wingo would flip on his commitment from Penn State six months after announcing and commit to Florida on the same day.
Never looking back from that point forward, Wingo went on to play his final season of football as a future Gator and did his part in supporting others to take the three to four year trip to Gainesville with him.
Long-Term Projection and Outlook
Playing three seasons at the varsity level for St. Thomas Aquinas, the four-star linebacker brings an already experienced playmaker to the mix for the Gators defense. Standing at 6-2, 210 lbs., Wingo combines traits of size, athleticism, explosiveness off the line, and extreme physicality that earned him Gatorade Florida Player of the Year.
Beginning his playing career at STA as a quarterback, the talented Gators signee made the jump to the defensive side of the ball with ease and never looked back. He quickly took on a starting role at linebacker as a junior before taking on roles as a jybrid defensive end during his senior year.
Statistically, in 2019, Wingo accounted for 52 tackles, 12 of which were for loss, 14 sacks, and two pass breakups, and in the process proved he could do more than just get after the quarterback.
Seeing most of his snaps from the defensive end spot in 2019—given his uncanny ability to get after the passer and disrupt running lanes with an incredible burst off the snap—Wingo's skill set makes him an intriguing addition for Todd Grantham's defensive scheme, but not as a defensive end given he is undersized for the position at the next level.
Expressing fluid versatility as a pass rusher, run stopper, and coverage man, Wingo gives the Gators more options in play-calling defensively, the mantra of this Florida recruiting class.
With Wingo proving to have pass-rushing success in the past, his chances of seeing time early only increase in Grantham's scheme—especially on "Third and Grantham"—a term coined for blitzing on third-down situations that would conventionally be defended by dropping seven or eight players back into coverage.
However, Wingo can do much more than getting after the quarterback and play run stop.
As previously mentioned, Wingo had two pass breakups during his senior season at STA. Given his muscular build mixed with sideline-to-sideline speed, clocking a 4.7 40-yard dash in early 2019, he is equipped with under-appreciated coverage skills.
Given his instinctive nature and athleticism, Wingo possesses the ability to go both toe-to-toe with tight ends physically and play in space against running backs due to his quick and twitchy movements. As a guy that plays with a high motor and relentless pursuit of the ball until the whistle is blown, Wingo brings the intensity play in and play out, an intensity that is contagious to his teammates.
On top of the attributes that make Wingo an outstanding football player, the Gators second-rated acquisition of the 2020 recruiting cycle also adds a natural-born leader to the list of desirable aspects of his game.
As Wingo took on an active leadership role for an STA team that stood atop the state to add yet another championship to the illustrious high school program's collection, he proved to encourage those around him through active communication at all points before, during and after STA's games.
Having the characteristics to lead, he becomes even more of a necessity, because talent is not the only thing that a team needs to reach the pinnacle of its sport.
After enrolling in June, Wingo projects to be a special teams ace for the Gators in year one and offers the potential to play early in his career provided Florida's shaky linebacker corps. Wingo and all other signees will have to undergo a unique transition period due to lost time this offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he's the type of player that you'd bet on picking things up quickly.
When Wingo gets the system down and becomes comfortable enough to take the field, he projects to become a multi-year starter and one of the premier talents on Florida in due time.