RECRUITING: Perfect Ending To A Perfect Day

The perfect day had a perfect ending for Paul Wilson, the wide receiver from Lakeland who is called "Magic Man" by his teammates because he has this habit of making the impossible catch almost routine. In Gainesville with his parents and sister to visit the University of Florida campus, Wilson got the scholarship offer he had been hoping and praying for from Coach Urban Meyer.

(See Paul Wilson profile)

Wilson and his family came up from Lakeland Monday to get a closer look at the University of Florida campus. They spent the afternoon touring the campus and facilities with wide receivers Coach Billy Gonzales. After an extensive look into all that Florida has to offer academically and athletically, the Wilsons were sitting in the office asking questions of Gonzales when Meyer invited them down the hall to his office.

"He [Meyer] told me what he liked about me," said Wilson, who caught 43 passes for 750 yards and seven touchdowns for the Lakeland Dreadnaughts last year. "He said that he knows I have great hands and that he doesn't know how fast I'm going to be at this level but he'll put size on me and he knows that if it's a third down and the Gators need a first down, he can get the ball to me and he knows I'll catch it.

"Then he said, 'I want to offer you a scholarship to play football for the University of Florida.' I said, Coach, I'll be honest with you, I've been to Notre Dame and I've been to South Carolina, but what I really want to be is a Florida Gator. I committed to Florida right there."

Wilson becomes the fifth player from Lakeland's two-time defending state champions to say yes to the Gators. Already, the Gators have commitments from running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey, cornerback Ahmad Black and offensive tackles Maurkice and Michael Pouncey.

"That's five of us now and we've got two more to go," said Wilson. "All of us are hoping and praying that Steven Wilks (safety) and John Brown (defensive tackle) are next. We're a family down there at Lakeland and we all want to be part of the Gator family there in Gainesville."

Wilson made his move to earn the Florida scholarship when he camped in Gainesville a couple of weeks ago. He arrived in Gainesville just after the Notre Dame camp and just before camping at South Carolina. He was in Gainesville only one day but he made a tremendous impression on the Florida coaches with his smooth route-running and his sure hands.

What impressed Wilson was how much information was packed into that one day he spent at the Florida camp.

"I was at camp at Florida for one day and I learned so much that it made me think that if I can learn this much in one day, think how much I'll learn from the Florida coaches in four years," he said.

He spent a lot of time that day working individually with Gonzales, who made an instant impression.

"He's a great guy and I like the way he coaches," said Wilson. "He's young, he's very enthusiastic and energetic. I feed off of that kind of stuff."

He says he fell in love with the Florida campus, the academic environment and the way the Florida coaches go about their business. Wilson sees a lot of similarities in Meyer and the man he plays for in Lakeland, coaching legend Bill Castle, who has won 278 games at Lakeland and has a 150-18 record since 1993.

"I think they are a lot alike," said Wilson. "They're both tough coaches that will tell you the way it is and they're not afraid to tell you when you stink. You have to earn them telling you that you did something good. That's the kind of coach I'm used to so it won't be anything different than what I'm used to at Lakeland.

"I like Coach Meyer a lot. He's honest and I can trust him and that's very important to me. It was also very important that he wanted to meet my mom and spend time with my family. Family is obviously very important to him and it is to me. That's the atmosphere they're building at Florida and I really like that."

At Lakeland, the seniors call themselves "The Family" because they have bonded like a band of brothers in the four years that they've been a part of the Lakeland football program. For Wilson and several of the many Division I football prospects in this ever so talented senior class, the thought of staying together at the next level has become somewhat of a driving force.

Rainey committed to the Gators first and that led Black, a lifelong FSU fan that was about to pull the trigger for LSU, to say yes to Florida. The Pouncey twins, both lifelong Seminole fans, came to the Florida camp along with Rainey and Black and they decided that Florida was the best place for them. Now, Wilson makes it five Dreadnaughts that will wear the orange and blue. He couldn't wait to call his friends back in Lakeland to tell them the news.

"Chris was funny about it, laughing and cutting up like he always does," said Wilson. "He was with the Pounceys and I think he knew it was coming. Then I talked to Ahmad. Then Mrs. Webster (Maurkice and Michael's mother) called and she was really excited. She said how great it is that all of us are going to be able to stay together at Florida. She said now we need to get Steven and John and things will be perfect."

Paul's dad, Mark Wilson, was a standout wide receiver for the Georgia Bulldogs in the 1970s under Vince Dooley. Mark made it clear to Paul that the choice was his and there was no problem that he would choose to be a Gator.

"He's been great about it all along," said Paul. "He just wants what's best for me and he really is impressed with Coach Meyer. He teased me about him being a Georgia Bulldog but he's way past that when it comes to wanting what's best for me."

Wilson, who has a 3.85 cumulative GPA and a 3.5 in his core classes, already has a qualifying SAT score. He will be enrolling in Florida in January and he plans to major either in business or sports management.

He said he's happy to have the college recruiting out of the way so he can concentrate on his senior year in football. The Dreadnaughts have a lofty goal of extending their winning streak to 45 games. If they do that, they'll win their third straight state title and their second straight USAToday national championship.

"We're all going to try to do whatever we have to do to keep it rolling," he said. "It's real important for all us seniors to win the state championship again. Now that I have recruiting out of the way, I can concentrate on doing whatever I need to work hard to be the best football player I can be."

As he thought about the decision he had made, Wilson said, "I really believe this is the right place for me to be and best of all, it's an hour and a half from my home so my family can see me play and I'll be there with all my buds from Lakeland. This is really great."

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