In 2005 Alabama started spring practice with returning starting quarterback Brodie Croyle held out of all contact work as he recuperated from 2004 knee surgery. Spencer Pennington, who finished the year number two, had elected to give up football and concentrate on baseball. And Marc Guillon, who had initially replaced Croyle in 2004, was struggling with a back injury.
And so John Parker Wilson, who had been a "grayshirt" and was a true freshman last spring, was usually working with the first offense. And in the fall, Wilson was Croyle's back-up, albeit a little-used quarterback.
This spring Wilson is number one on the depth chart at quarterback, ahead of Guillon, an upcoming senior, and redshirt freshman Jimmy Barnes.
Wilson and his teammates begin practice with a workout in shorts Friday. Another shorts workout (three are mandated among the 15 practices) will be Saturday and a third when the team returns from spring break on March 28. The A-Day Game will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
"I've been ready for spring practice to begin since the end of the bowl game," Wilson said. "I'm pumped. I worked hard when I was a grayshirt, I worked hard when I was a back-up, and I'm going to work hard now. I have to get better, the offensive line has to get better, the receivers have to get better. We all do."
Wilson, 6-2 and "a solid 215," was a star quarterback for high school powerhouse Hoover. He signed with Alabama in 2004, but elected to grayshirt, sitting out that season as a part-time student. He re-signed in 2005 and went through spring practice. Last fall he was the number two quarterback, seeing action in four games. He had at least one pass completion in each game. For the year he completed seven of 11 passes (63.6 per cent) for 98 yards and two touchdowns and did not suffer an interception. He also had a rushing touchdown in the final moments at Auburn.
At Hoover, Wilson led the Bucs to the state 6A championship. He was the Alabama Sports Writers Association Back of the Year. He completed 314 of 467 passes (67 per cent) for a state record 3,821 yards and 40 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.
Wilson's mother, the former Susan Ingram, was a cheerleader for Alabama in the final years of the Paul Bryant era. John Parker said his mother had definite feelings on where her son should go to school. In any event, he was a lifelong Bama fan and it was just a matter of having the offer and he selected the Crimson Tide.
He said this spring he will be working on decision-making, reading defenses, and getting the ball to the correct receiver. He also has to "know when to check down and get the ball to a running back."
Wilson boils down his job succinctly. "Get the ball to the right guy at the right time," he said.
That's actually not far off from what his coach, Mike Shula, said. "For every quarterback, in my opinion, when you are throwing the football there are three things, and if you can do these three things then you can play well," Shula said. He said those three things are "going to the right guy, being on time, and throwing the ball accurately. That's what he'll strive for and the other guys will strive for."
Shula said Wilson got a jump start on this season last spring "when he got all those reps when the other guys were hurt. In fact, he may have gotten more reps last year than he'll et this spring. He has to understand the position and how to manage the game. You begin to do that in spring ball, by getting practice and making good decisions. Physically, we feel very good about him. being able to do the things that we've done here before with Brodie. Now it's just a matter of continuing to get experience and making good decisions."
Wilson said he, Guillon and Barnes would be pushing each other. "That's going to be good for all of us," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to put this team where it needs to be in the fall. Right now, we're a long way away."
The upcoming sophomore said, "We've been talking a lot about getting back to championship status."
Shula was asked to compare Wilson to Croyle. The coach said, "He's thicker than Brodie. He weighs more now than Brodie ever did. He's got good mobility. They have similar arm strength with velocity and how far they can throw the ball. Brodie may have a slightly quicker release, but not by much."
Shula said that Wilson as a freshman last year "was very cool for a young guy playing. That was very encouraging. I felt very comfortable, in fact after spring ball last year, that if Brodie had not been able to get himself healthy or stay healthy that we would have been a very good football team with John Parker. Now it's a matter of continuing to do the things he's been asked to do. It's a little different when you're going to get more reps and there's not a guy in front of you that's had a lot of starting experience. Sometimes as quarterbacks, you want to try to create things and make things happen to impress coaches and to try to win a job and you force things. He doesn't need to do that."
David Rader, Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said, "He's a bright young man with a strong arm who loves to play football and the quarterback position. He has leadership qualities. You know he's capable of handling the job and this spring we will put him in the situations he will face in the fall. We expect good things from him."
Rader said that Wilson would get work on "consistency and ball placement. A quarterback has to be consistent."
Both Wilson and Shula acknowledge that Wilson made a poor decision on a Saturday night early last football season when he was arrested by Northport police and charged with driving under the influence.
"It was a tough lesson," Wilson said. "You learn and move on."
He is also aware that as an Alabama quarterback he is under the microscope. "That comes with the job," he said.
Shula said, "He's matured a lot. He's grown up. He is emerging as a leader right now. He has a natural way about himself. He loves the game. He loves to compete. That has manifested itself since he's been here. Other guys like to follow a guy like that."