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Coach shares Rod’s story

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Don't disrespect homegrown BYU wide receiver Rod Wilkerson in front of head coach Gary Crowton.

He doesn't buy any of it, and it has nothing to do with him and Wilkerson being Orem High School alumni.

Over the past two seasons, Wilkerson's struggled at times and earned the dubious nickname 50-50 — a non-scientific percentage hurled at his chances at holding on to passes. Ouch.

While the Cougars have yet to unleash wideouts Wilkerson and Chris Hale in the first two games against BCS foes, it's evident to practice observers Wilkerson has certainly hiked up his game.

None of it is lost on Crowton — and Wilkerson's abilities have never been an issue with the third-year head coach.

Just ask about Wilkerson, and Crowton gets protective.

"Have you heard what happened to him last year?" Crowton asks. "It's a good story."

During BYU's 5-7 season a year ago Wilkerson's pregnant wife, Jennifer, battled a tumor in her brain. "Because she was carrying a baby, I'm not sure how much medication she could take because it would affect the baby," Crowton said.

"As it turned out, the baby came and both the mother and child were OK. But during that time Rod had the worry of that situation, plus he was recovering from knee surgery."

And that's another part of the story.

When Wilkerson was in elementary school he contracted an infection in his knee. The infection raged on and was difficult to control. It ended up "chewing up" a lot of ligaments and other tissue in Wilkerson's knee and, according to Crowton, there was a question if Wilkerson would ever walk normally again.

Fast-forward a few years to high school. Wilkerson set a state record in the 100-meter dash at Orem High and remains one of the fastest sprinters in state history.

Wilkerson's childhood infection made his knee surgery in college a "slow process" because the tissue didn't rebound like a normal knee following the procedure, according to Crowton.

"He never played wide receiver in high school — he was a linebacker. He's learning the position, and I think he's really come on and we look for big things from him."

OK, Coach.

Another thing you don't disrespect in front of Crowton: the MWC. That's why Crowton's picking Utah to defeat California tonight in another key conference showdown with a BCS school from the Pac-10.

When pressed for a prediction on tonight's game: "I've gotta go with Utah. I'm voting for all the Mountain West schools."

Here's this week's predictions from this perch:

UTAH 24, CAL 21: The Utes are 4-0 in recent seasons hosting non-conference foes in Rice Eccles. Throw in a Bear loss to MWC favorite Colorado State, Utah's altitude, a road trip, fewer mistakes and Brandon Warfield's newfound stardom and the Utes should win this game. A key is if Warfield's still standing after carrying the offense.

WISCONSIN 33, UNLV 14: The Rebels are turning into a very bad road team, and Wisconsin is simply a superior program in every way from butts in the stands to practice mouth pieces.

John Robinson's team drops to 1-2 on the year.

AIR FORCE 45, NORTH TEXAS 17: The Falcons will become the nation's leading rushing team with margin to spare after racking up yardage in this non-conference cakewalk, and the Air Force quarterback won't have to punch anybody out.

SAN DIEGO STATE 24, UTEP 14: Suddenly the Aztecs are sporting a top-10 defense. Confidence is high after the "shoulda won" effort at Columbus against Ohio State. SDSU limited the Buckeyes to 191 yards total offense. Somebody explain that one. The Aztecs were picked to finish last in the MWC.

BYU 28, NEW MEXICO 17: Interesting matchup. Both defenses will have a heck of an identity problem with all those mirror signals, alignments and coverages. Matt Berry is wiser this time around thanks to Bronco Mendenhall's pep talk, and the Lobos miss big play specialist in linebacker Pola Fashola, the league's second-leading sack man.

Overall 14-4; last week 7-3.

E-MAIL: dharmon@desnews.com