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Mario Wilbourn turning heads in first year of varsity football

Memphis head football coach Mike Norvell was strolling the sidelines two weeks ago at Lafayette High School.

Having just played a Thursday night game, Norvell had come down to Oxford to take a look at a few kids during the Lafayette-West Point game. Notably, his eyes were on a sophomore linebacker whom he had offered a scholarship to just a few months prior.

Mario Wilbourn, a sophomore at Lafayette, is playing his first year of football at the varsity level. He also just happens to be arguably the most critical part of the Commodore defense. Through six games, he leads the team in tackles, including five tackles for loss from the inside linebacker position.

“Not only did we kind of see it coming with Mario, we kind of needed it to come,” Lafayette head coach Michael Fair said. “We’re playing a lot of younger, less-experienced guys on that side of the ball. But with Mario, there’s nothing that can take the place of how he comes to work each day. He’s really just mature for his age. He’s a good guy, a great kid and the kind of kid the defense rallies around.”

Last Friday night at Grenada, Lafayette took the lead at 24-21 with 1:10 to play, giving the Chargers one final shot. It was Wilbourn making the last-ditch play to force a Grenada fumble for the Lafayette win.

Fair said he loved what he saw from Wilbourn throughout the spring and summer workouts. He’s a great athlete, having previously played some running back before becoming a full-time linebacker. He plays physically and, for a sophomore, he has great size at six feet and 215 pounds. It’s that potential and pure athleticism that excited the Lafayette staff when Wilbourn was a freshman, and that led Memphis to offer him a scholarship after only seeing him in one single practice.

“The summer was really just working hard every day. Coming to practice, trying to get bigger and showing up every day,” Wilbourn said. “The hard part (about adjusting to this level) is just being more focused, paying more attention to what’s going on and playing fast.”

The Memphis offer was kind of eye-opening for Wilbourn, he said. Really, he said, it just makes him want to work even harder.

It’s not often Fair gets this sort of contribution from such a young member of the squad, but it’s something Lafayette tries to get ahead of. The freshman team practices with the varsity every day. They take freshmen on road trips, teaching them to travel and eat pregame meals the way it’s expected at the varsity level. Really, they’re just trying to do anything to eliminate the learning curve that comes when taking the next step. With Wilbourn, it’s paying off.

“We’re to the point in high school football, it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in,” Fair said. “If you’re good enough to play, big enough to play, you’ll play. But he’s done really well and progressed each week and become a better linebacker each week.”

Through six games, Wilbourn has certainly proven himself good enough to play. If anything, the young linebacker is already proving he’s capable of playing at the next level.