Orange Bowl Pits Wilson Against Former Suitor

The Orange Bowl assignment was thrilling enough. The opponent? That really caught De’Runnya Wilson’s attention. Because had he gone east to play college football instead of west, Mississippi State’s star receiver would be running routes for Georgia Tech. “I was offered there.”

“The offensive coordinator came and talked to me at my high school.” This was Wenonah High in Alabama, where De’Runnya Wilson was the star…well, everything. The basketball name was bigger of course but a return to football for the senior season showed Wilson’s pure potential. Enough that besides SEC and regional programs who already had come courting, the Yellow Jackets sent a top staffer with the offer.

And Wilson listened.

“I thought about Calvin Johnson there. So that was one of the schools I was interested in, besides Mississippi State.” Fortunately for the Bulldogs, not to mention a lot of ACC defenses, Wilson stuck by the SEC school which had been on him longest and best. Yes, he appreciates the Orange Bowl irony, that for the 2014 event he could just as easily be wearing blue-and-gold as he will maroon-and-white.

“I could see myself there by picking up the offer. But coming here on my visit, Mississippi State is home.” A happy home too. Not to mention an offense better-matched to Wilson’s still-developing game. He means no offense to the upcoming opponent, but his reaction to hearing how Georgia Tech threw only 191 passes all season against 729 rushes says it all.

“That’s crazy. I know when Calvin was there they were airing it out.”

Then again perhaps Wilson’s presence would have altered Tech’s offense? Certainly Mississippi State has put his fascinating tools to frequent use. After a 26-catch, 351-yard freshman season in the rotation, Wilson stepped into the starting lineup this year and produced 38 catches for 575 yards so far. And he more than doubled the touchdown total from three in ’13 to seven.

Given this team-leading output, shouldn’t Wilson be taking it easy during campus bowl camp? Nope. Even as Coach Dan Mullen and staff want to work the other, younger or less-seasoned receivers for spring previews, there is ‘Bear’ Wilson taking his place first in-line at one of the split end positions.

Because, he said, he isn’t satisfied with 2014 results. “Not necessarily. I want to be better. I want to be the best. So it’s only get better, and I’ve only got to work harder to become great. Different routes, technique-wise coming off my break faster. Running off the ball. Just getting open and being a big-time receiver.”

By Mississippi State measure Wilson already is pretty big-time. He was clearly Dak Prescott’s preferred target, most so in red zone offense where the size and length and increasing strength could be put to best effect. Defenses noticed of course and adapted, and still Wilson could go up for and come down with those high throws.

That same strength has been put to better use elsewhere as well. After drawing some September flags for pushing off a little too blatantly or outright offensive interference, Wilson has learned a little finesse to balance the force. Overall, “I’m more comfortable. I had the learning experience as a freshman, but as I always say I’m still learning as I go.

“But the main thing is I’m just focused, I’m comfortable with the position and with the job I do.” Just don’t confuse comfortable with complacent.

Because if Wilson needed any additional motivation to keep up the improvement…all he needs do is think back to the regular-season finale. The stat sheet reads great; eight catches to match his career-best, and 117 yards which is his best. And, an end zone-sideline catch that made every highlight review that evening.

None of which matters. “Last game we played, we lost,” Wilson said. This is one sizable reason behind his bowl camp approach. The rest of the receiver corps too, for that matter. “So we have to attack practice. We have to move at a fast pace and do the little things out here. Get the job done.”

“Like I said, I want to be the best, man. Every route I take I take pride in it. We don’t get that many chances here in this organization as a receiver, but you have to work hard.” Wilson’s reference to limited chances isn’t a comment on the offense; it reflects the depth of numbers and skills present at every State receiver spot, or slot, which Mullen has assembled.

While Wilson did lead the list, classmate Fred Ross came on strong as well in ’14 with a 24-catch, four-touchdown season. A better commentary is reading Jameon Lewis’ name in just fifth place with 27 balls and two scores. Sure, the senior was hampered by a mid-season bone break. But not only did others take up such slack, the passes were spread around to a wider variety.

This bodes very well for Mississippi State’s air game in 2015 of course, even allowing for uncertainty over Prescott’s preferences come the January declaration deadline for early NFL entry. “It’s none of our business,” Wilson said, since every Dog will support their leader’s decision…while naturally hoping he returns to throw a lot more balls their way(s) next fall.

Either way, the whole Bulldog-band is together to conclude their 2014 calendar, in Miami. “I’m pumped-up about it,” said Wilson. “I have a couple of friends there, and I’m wanting to go win the game and have fun.” Have it with his own team, that is, and at the expense of a program he could have been playing for in the same game. Just from the other sideline.

“But I get to see them in the bowl!”

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