Among those lessons was what he believes to be a fundamental truth – he can play at the highest level if given the chance.
"There's no doubt in my mind I'm an NFL player," he said. "No doubt in my mind about it. I saw the players they had. People come back all the time and say you can definitely play in the NFL."
What went wrong the first time around had little to do with talent. The former Ohio State defensive end was working out with the Chicago Bears during the preseason when an old nemesis struck again – a leg injury.
After missing all but one half of the 2007 season with a broken right leg and then seeing his 2008 season shortened when he tore his ACL, Wilson again saw his hopes at playing time dashed when he suffered a hamstring injury during the preseason.
"You play the game of football, you get injuries and you have to roll with the punches," he said. "We were doing a pursuit drill in minicamp and I was running and it popped. It was a minor thing but hamstrings linger."
The injury lingered enough that Wilson spent the entirety of the 2010 season working the leg back into shape. He then returned to training and spent March 11 trying to restart his NFL career by working out in front of scouts at Ohio State's Pro Day.
Among his numbers, he ran the 40-yard dash between 4.7 and 4.8 seconds, posted a vertical jump of 37 inches, bench-pressed 28 reps and performed at position drills.
"This is a great opportunity to get my name back out there as far as the pro scouts," he said. "You get an opportunity like this on the big stage like Ohio State, you want to be proactive, get your name back out there, get in front of these scouts, especially with the collective bargaining agreement going on right now."
Indeed, the NFL labor dispute could be another roadblock for Wilson in a career full of them. He was once a four-star prospect from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's and thought to be one of the gems of the 2005 recruiting class. After getting his feet wet the first two seasons, Wilson was a starter going into the 2007 campaign as a junior. He looked impressive, too, in the early going against Youngstown State, making a sack in the first half before suffering a broken leg to see his season end.
A year later, he again made an early impact – posting a sack vs. Youngstown State, picking off a pass against Ohio and recovering a fumble against Purdue – before tearing his ACL, ending his season prematurely. Though his last season had highlights – 23 tackles, two sacks and an interception – he was not a starter and shared time.
As one might expect from someone who has seen so much go wrong, Wilson is willing do anything a team might ask in order to earn a job.
"Whatever I can – special teams, I can do whatever a team needs me to do," he said. "Whatever a team tells me to do – punt, special teams, I want to help a team win a Super Bowl whatever way I can."
Wilson said scouts had approached him remembering him from a year ago, a good sign that some are still familiar with his talents and could recommend him to an NFL front office. Should another opportunity to make the NFL come along, he said he'll be able to use his previous experience in Chicago to his advantage.
"Anytime you go through a situation like that and you see how the NFL is, you have to learn from it and you can't make the same mistakes you did before," Wilson said. "I learned from those mistakes in Chicago and i learned how the system is. Just whenever you go in a new situation, things are different. It's not like college, and you've got to take those differences and roll with it."
Through injury, work stoppages and other struggles, Wilson admits that the opportunity to play in the NFL is slim. However, he also said he wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he hadn't given it one final shot.
"I'm young – 23 years old – I'm healthy, so if I'm going to do it I want to do it now," he said. "I put all my efforts into it the past month and a half. I didn't work. All I did was train, get my mind right, get my body right for this opportunity because it's slim to get an opportunity like this. I don't want to live my live with a what if.
"It's rare that somebody gets to play in the NFL. A lot of people give up on their dream. This is my dream so I'm going to keep pursuing it."