State of the Hogs: Growing Up

It's been a lot of growing up for Tyler Wilson in the last 12 months. The Arkansas quarterback is full of confidence as summer hits.

Tyler Wilson is the unquestioned leader of the Arkansas football team. In the wake of Bobby Petrino's firing last month, Wilson is the face of the program.

There are other leaders on this Arkansas football team. And they are great leaders elsewhere on offenseto go with Wilson like Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson, Cobi Hamilton Chris Gragg and Travis Swanson. There are leaders on defense like Byran Jones, Tenarius Wright, Alonzo Highsmith and Eric Bennett.

Perhaps more will emerge in summer workouts when it's hot and nasty while strength coach Jason Veltkamp grinds on the Razorbacks. They always do emerge in those tough conditions.

But this summer will be different than any the Razorbacks have experienced lately. It goes back to Wilson's position as the central leader, an ideal situation for any team. It doesn't get any better than having an All-SEC first teamer back under center to take charge for the summer.

It was 12 months ago almost to the day that both Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee had exit talks with Wilson after spring football drills. And they talked to the media, too.

Both the head coach and the offensive coordinator refused to name Wilson the starting QB after a spring battle that he had clearly won over Brandon Mitchell. They said the battle would continue through the summer as Wilson and Mitchell tried to prove which could become the clear leader of the team.

I thought it interesting then that both those coaches said they wanted to see one last thing from Wilson. Would he be hard on his teammates? Would he push them like a coach in the hot summer conditions? Would he chew some butts when no coach was around? Could he be that?

Fast forward to this day. The Hogs went 11-2 with Wilson taking shot after shot after an offensive line learned how to protect. He was the most valuable player in a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State.

His stock rose to the point that he had to decide whether or not to opt for the NFL draft, perhaps turning down first round money. That's something former Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill will realize after going as the No. 8 pick in last month's draft -- perhaps a spot that Wilson could have occupied.

Wilson chuckled last week when reminded of those post-spring challenges from his coaches as to his leadership skills. Perhaps he knew all along he could lead this team. Perhaps he knew then that there wasn't anything missing in his leadership abilities.

"I lived through that," Wilson said. "There's a lot of me that says I'm the same guy I was a year ago, in terms of my personality, in terms of the way I led and the way I carried myself and went to practice every single day.

"Then there's a part of me that says I changed. I think coaching wise you might have a question about a guy's leadership just because you haven't seen it on the field when it counts. Until you see it, you go, ‘Does he have the right qualities.'

"Sometimes those qualities don't come out until your time is appointed to you. I think that's big in everything you do.

"That's the case in everything you do. Sometimes big-time coaches don't emerge until they are given the opportunity and they are put in the driver's seat. There's a reason you don't hear their names until appointed head coach.

"There are a lot of different things that play into that. I'm excited that all of that stuff has transpired for a reason."

It's clear that everyone has heard Wilson's name. He spent a day doing cover shots for everyone's summer magazine. He is on ESPN on a regular basis. It's clear that he handles everything with class and great maturity. He can do an interview as well as he can take a hit. It's clear he has confidence in everything he does.

"Last year when we changed (quarterbacks) coach during the Cotton Bowl time, my maturity improved," Wilson said. "I got a lot more reps during the bowl practices, got a win at the Cotton Bowl. That helps your confidence. Then, that decision making process after the game as we talked about the draft made me grow up as a person.

"This is what my goals are and what I want to do as a person long term. You have to make a lot of grown-up decisions and do it in a short time frame. That helps you grow up and have a different purpose for playing. Then all of the stuff that transpired in the last month makes you grow up more.

"Right now, I feel more confident than I've ever felt and I think that helps you become a better leader. I think guys see that."

Tyler Wilson looks grown up. And it all looks good.

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