(See Paul Wilson profile)
"Playing at Georgia, between the hedges at Sanford Stadium, has always been my dream," said Paul, the 6-1, 180-pound wide receiver from Lakeland. "If they came around and offered me a scholarship it would be very hard to turn down since my dad played between the hedges but I have to keep everything in perspective. Georgia may not offer and I may end up playing at Florida or some team that's always been a big rival."
Wilson caught 43 passes for more than 750 yards and seven touchdowns last season for Lakeland, which capped its second straight undefeated state championship season with a USAToday national championship. His stats are more impressive when you add the fact that Lakeland had two running backs (Chris Rainey and Jamar Taylor) that combined for more than 3,000 yards and Wilson missed two full games with an ankle injury.
"Also, there weren't too many games when the starters got to play the second half," he said. "We were usually so far ahead by halftime that the young guys played the rest of the way, all but maybe the last three or four games in the playoffs.
Known for his precise route-running and excellent body control, Wilson opened a lot of eyes at the Reebok-US Army All-American Combine in San Antonio back in January when he ran a 4.5 in the 40. He's hearing from a lot of schools and hopes that the letters and phone calls translate into scholarship offers this summer.
"I'm camping at Notre Dame on June 3 and at South Carolina on June 10," said Wilson, who is also being recruited by Florida, Alabama, LSU and Vanderbilt as well as other SEC and ACC schools. "I'll be at the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) camp in Black Mountain, North Carolina in June so June's pretty booked up. After June, I'll have to see what's available."
The one school he would like to hear from doesn't call too often.
"Georgia hasn't shown all that much interest," said Wilson, whose dad Mark was a standout wide receiver at Georgia in the Vince Dooley era. "My dad was a great receiver there and I grew up loving everything about Georgia football. That was always my dream but I'm all right going somewhere else if they don't offer. So is my dad, even though I know it would be tough on him at first if I was playing somewhere like Florida."
Because his father was a wide receiver, Paul has been taught all the skills necessary to play the position since he was a little guy. Mark Wilson taught Paul to catch in the back yard and that has graduated to a lot of advanced drills that have taught him to focus on the football and block out everything and everybody else.
"Even when I was a little guy my dad was telling me that when the ball is in the air it's yours and nobody else is supposed to catch it," he said. "You have to do whatever you have to do to get to the ball and make the catch."
He runs his routes with a lot of confidence. He says that comes from the workouts with his dad, also.
"He taught me that against a defensive back I should always win since I know where I'm going and he doesn't," Paul said. "If I run my route the right way there's no way the DB should be able to stay with me. I know where I'm going, I know when the ball is going to be thrown and where on the field it's being thrown to. I have all those advantages so I should win every time since the DB can only react to what I do."
Wilson will once again be Lakeland's top pass receiving threat. The Dreadnaughts have a 30-game winning streak and their goal is to extend it to 45 games. If they do that, they will win a third straight state championship and it would be very difficult for USAToday to rank another team ahead of the defending national champs in the final poll.
"If we can finish undefeated again, I think people would have to consider us one of the best teams ever in Florida," said Wilson. "They might think we're up there with De LaSalle out in California and say we're one of the really great teams of all time. That's a goal for us. We really would like for people to think we're one of the all-time great teams."
The Dreadnaughts have a 150-18 record and four state 5A championships since 1993. Loaded with top Division I prospects like Rainey (Florida commitment), Taylor, Ahmad Black, LeShawn and James Pouncey, John Brown, Jordan Hammond and Wilson, it's a safe bet that Lakeland will be in the hunt for that rare three-peat.
Wilson says that the secret to Lakeland's success is in its coach, Bill Castle, who constantly pushes his team to get better.
"Sometimes he'll tell us he doesn't care if we have to run the same play 10 times or more, we're going to run it until we get it right before we go on to another play," said Wilson. "He's a perfectionist and he's always on us to do it better. Anything we do, he wants us to do it better and he pushes us that way."
In one respect, Castle is like his dad's college coach, Vince Dooley. Dooley was famous for talking up the next Georgia opponent while talking down the Bulldogs. Dooley could be playing the nuns from a north Georgia convent and he would talk as if they should be ranked number one in the nation, all the while downplaying his own team.
"Coach Castle is always talking about how great the other team is and how we're probably going to get beat if we don't work harder in practice," said Wilson. "He makes sure we never get the big head."
Qualifying to play Division I football won't be a problem. Wilson has a 3.8 GPA and he's already earned a qualifying score in the SAT although he wants to take it a few more times.
"I'm already qualified but I want to keep taking it and see what kind of score I can end up with," he said.
He has already thought about what it will be like for his dad if he ends up at South Carolina, where that thorn in Georgia's side, Steve Spurrier coaches, or at Florida, which has won 14 of the last 16 games against Georgia.
"When he played at Georgia, he never lost to Florida and he's proud of that, but if I played for Coach Spurrier or if I played at Florida, he says he would adjust," said Paul. "In the end, he just wants what's best for me no matter where I end up playing college football."