NC State entered it’s 2000 match-up with arch rival UNC on the short end of a seven game losing streak to the Tar Heels. Under first year head coach Chuck Amato, the Pack seized control of the game early on and cruised to an impressive 38-20 victory.
While there were many stars on the field that day for the Wolfpack, it was safety Adrian Wilson who set the tone from the outset of the game. Boasting a career filled with numerous bone-jarring hits, Wilson could have very easily put together a highlight reel from this game alone. He delivered several crushing tackles with UNC freshman TB Andre Williams being the recipient of a couple of the biggest.
That game would help turn the tide versus the Heels and end their seven year dominance of the Wolfpack. Including the 2000 contest, NC State now boasts the upper hand with a 5-4 record versus Carolina over the last nine years.
High Point Andrews High School has been particularly kind to the Wolfpack over the years, yielding former stars like QB Johnny Evans and RB Ted Brown. Adrian Wilson wasn’t a big-time Andrews’ prospect back in 1998 by any stretch. The Fayetteville Observer rated him just the 28th best player in North Carolina that year. However, he was a do-it-all athlete that starred in football, basketball and track. On the gridiron, Wilson finished his senior season with three interceptions at defensive back and had 19 receptions for 412 yards on offense. He would be selected to play in the East-West All-Star game where he would be named MVP. On the recruiting trail, State beat out just East Carolina for Wilson’s commitment behind the work of then-offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.
Once in Raleigh it didn’t take long for Wilson to make his mark with the Pack. He quickly became State’s top special team’s player- leading the team in 1998 with 21 regular season tackles. Wilson finished his freshman year with 41 total tackles in addition to a blocked field goal versus Miami and an interception against Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb.
During his sophomore season Wilson made a huge jump- finishing third that year in total team tackles with 104. One of his biggest plays that year came when he snagged an overtime interception in the end zone to preserve a win against Duke.
Wilson’s junior year would be his biggest and would ultimately lay the groundwork for him to declare for the NFL draft in 2001. He would tally double digit tackles in seven games that year including a 10 tackle, one fumble recovery effort against Minnesota in the Micronpc.com Bowl. In all, Wilson would collect 109 tackles in 2000 although the highlight of the year may have been an 81-yard reception from Austin Herbert off a fake punt in a Thursday night loss to Florida State. When all was said and done Wilson would land all-ACC honors.
Wilson would go on to become a third round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals where he still plays today. Most consider him to be one of the game’s top safeties and in 2005, set the NFL record for most sacks by a defensive back with eight. He has been named all-pro twice and in 2008, helped lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some may argue that Wilson’s best football came after his transition to the NFL. However, there have been few Wolfpack players over the years that made the simple act of tackling so entertaining. His work ethic, demeanor and natural ability have helped establish Wilson as one of NC State’s top football ambassadors.