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, they've 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 already has undergone a handful of surgeries.
#23 Mazzi Wilkins better sleep with one eye open..someone get this fool out of the ncaa for that hit on Milton. He also has a history of hits like that.— Out of Shae’s Head (@ShaefferKyle) November 23, 2018
"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, 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.
USF football playing dirty with their thug players as usual. Mazzi Wilkins with the low helmet tackle to the knees of Milton, broke his leg. USF should be ashamed of their program and what they just did to the AAC and all G5 teams. #usfscum #mazziwilkins is a criminal.— A-train (@bobbledthesnap) November 23, 2018
"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 saved some.
One 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 would like to. Roughly two hours after the conclusion of the game, a 38-10 UCF victory, Wilkins sent a tweet indicating he was praying for Milton and wishing him a "speedy recovery."
I want to send my prayers to Mckenzie Milton you are a baller and I wish you to a speedy recovery— Mazzi Wilkins (@mazzi_inc) November 24, 2018
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. "I don't wish no injury on anybody."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.