Derek Wilkins' dream seemed so far out of reach until the scholarship offers began flooding in.
The four-star defensive end from Santa Margarita Catholic High School near Los Angeles is considering 19 schools.
“Now if you would have told me this would have happened last year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” said Wilkins, a Washington Husky target for 2021.
The California native has most schools in the Pac-12 Conference vying for his services. The idea of staying close to home is realistic because every conference school in California has its eye on the 6-foot-5, 242-pound Wilkins.
“I still want to see some of these schools before I really lock in on a commitment,” he said.
Wilkins tweeted his top 12 schools earlier this month. He likes the idea of playing near his roots but the most important factor in his decision will be “to feel that I fit in with the culture.”
He knows relationships developed with teammates last a lifetime, that the guys he meets wherever he goes will become “brothers deep.”
The idea of establishing himself in a new region, if not a new city, also sounds appealing.
“I have grown up in Southern California my whole life and it’s a place that I like,” Wilkins said. “But I’ve heard that Washington is a beautiful state and that Seattle is a great city with a great fan base.”
The University of Washington remains high on Wilkins' list even with his official campus visit to the Northwest postponed because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Wilkins looks for a program that will help take him to the next level in football now that he knows it's a possibility.
“It came to me later in life," Wilkins said of his dream to play in the pros. "I didn’t think it was realistic probably until my sophomore year.”
During spring recruiting, the four-star recruit listened to college coaches tell him that he could contribute to their highly respected programs and followed it up with scholarship offers. The education is important to him, too.
“Whether it’s 15 years in the NFL or it’s just playing in college, eventually you are going to have to take that next step in life,” said Wilkins, who carries a 4.0 GPA.
Academics are a guiding force in his life. Wilkins is considering a career in finance as he mulls potential areas of study. The ability to one day provide for his family is a motivating factor.
He also draws inspiration from his mom and her work ethic, and describes her as his role model.
With so many people believing in him, among them those college coaches and his mother, it's made it far easier for Wilkins to dream his dreams.