OXFORD, Ohio - It's not easy transitioning from the high school level to the collegiate game. Linebacker Chris Wade knows that all to well.

The junior, who had 11 tackles all of last year, was primarily a special teams player in 2011. He started the first game of the season at linebacker, but rarely saw action after that.

"It was kind of a struggle," he said.

Wade admittedly lacked the focus and maturity level required to be a full-time starter.

But this season the Slidell, La. native has taken his game to the next level thanks to a newfound attention to detail and focus on becoming more mature as a player and a person. He leads the team in total tackles through three games with 27, which is six more than senior linebacker Pat Hinkel.

"For me, it's more of a maturity level (issue)," he said about why he didn't perform well last season. "I think a lot of my problems in years past were my preparation wasn't (good) and this year the main difference is I'm really focused right now and my head is in the game."

Wade says he has grown up a lot since his freshman year and wants to make the most of his final two seasons as a RedHawk.

"I'm getting used to the game more," he said. "It finally clicked for me this year. My biggest obstacle was getting over that mental block."

The strong-side linebacker describes himself as a sideline-to-sideline guy that has a relentless motor. He is also one of the strongest players on the team. Wade, a state champion power lifter at Northshore High School, bench presses more than 460 pounds.

"Chris has been able to make a lot of the plays he has because he plays very hard," MU linebackers coach Matt Edwards said. "He doesn't loaf out on the field, he's always running to the ball and a lot of the plays he makes are down the field because he does play with such great effort."

However, Wade is far from a finished product. He still needs to work on reading his keys, staying disciplined and becoming a more polished player.

"We're excited about the ceiling he has, because he's only scratched the surface of what he can be," Edwards said.

While Wade has struggled mentally on the field in years past, he's done just the opposite off of it, as he is one of the smartest players on the team.

The junior majors in engineering management and minors in finance. He has a 3.2 cumulative GPA.

"He's very bright, he learns well," defensive coordinator Jay Peterson said. "He's very intellectual."

Wade and the Miami football team begin conference play Saturday at home against MAC newcomer Massachusetts.

Game time is noon.

For more Miami University athletics coverage, visit Peter Marx's blog "Marx on Miami" and follow him on Twitter at@RedHawkReMarx.