Wilson's career spanned the only two WVU coaches in the last 26 years. He actually won his first bowl game, then dropped the final three. He played on teams that lost to Navy and Temple and one which beat No. 3 Virginia Tech, the highest ranked foe ever offed by the Mountaineers. He played backup to the top rusher in school history, then made the College Play of the Year in what eventually became a loss.
He is the everyman of WVU athletes, the player from Weirton, a town of 20,411 so blue-collar that it's dying a tardy, yet prototypically slow, death of steel cities. Yet here he was in July, three years after he finished with 2,608 yards on 474 carries, back in the Puskar Center and thriving as a person and trying for a Cincinnati Bengal backfield position by…working out with an NFL rival?
"Yeah, Mike Lorello and I have worked out some together this summer," Wilson said before both reported to training camp this week. "You can tell he is already a Steeler guy. He has that hard-edge style of play."
Something with which Wilson is familiar. He rolled multiple Virginia Tech defenders in the 28-7 upset win in 2003, West Virginia's second in as many seasons against the Hokies. He added a new twist to WVU teammate Avon Cobourne's straight-ahead style, morphing it into a power attack that fit perfectly with Rodriguez's evolving spread offense. And he, along with quarterback Rasheed Marshall (now with the 49ers), were the two players most responsible for West Virginia's transition and emergence during the Don Nehlen-to-Rodriguez years. The duo built the foundation upon which players like Lorello and others added to make West Virginia the program it is today – a la a four-time Big East champion, one ranked in the top 10 and threatening consecutive BCS bowls.
"I do look back on my career here fondly," Wilson said. "It was one of the greatest times – if not the greatest – in my life. It's neat to see how we have grown. Now, the talent level out there is just unreal with (quarterback Patrick) White and (running back) Steve Slaton. Slaton will probably have every record there is here after four years – if he stays that long. He has all the abilities in the world, and he is working hard. That makes for a really great player."
Wilson has also helped instruct Slaton as to some of the little nuances of the game he learned while at West Virginia. The sophomore tailback tallied a spectacular season, rushing for 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns while starting just eight games, including a 38-35 postseason win over Georgia in which he ran for a Sugar Bowl-record 204 yards while claiming game MVP honors. But there are still facets, like footwork and reading the line and holes correctly, that can be developed according to running backs coach and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee.
"We've talked a bit about things, about how to go about playing and little aspects of the game," Wilson said. "But he has great ability. He is a blessed player."
Wilson is, as well. He is getting a chance in Cincinnati after being drafted with the 18th pick in the seventh round by Atlanta in 2004. Not Mr. Irrelevant, but taking up tenancy in the same neighborhood. He is battling Kenny Watson and Terrence Whitehead for the third-string tailback spot behind Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry and trying to make a special teams headed by Shane Graham, the Tech place kicker who ended WVU's 1999 upset bid of then-No. 3 VPI in Wilson's freshman season with a 44-yard field goal.
"This is all just extra," said the 5-9 Wilson, who will play at 220 pounds. "I just dreamed of getting drafted. It is a yearly sport, a very competitive business. I am an old man now, having spent a year on the scout team, and it looks like this year is the year. I have to show them what I can do. Other guys will be taking that scout team spot now. At this level, you realize what talent is. You look at Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, guys like that. They have them returning kicks, catching passes out of the backfield, lining up wide. They do it all."
Wilson is now just enjoying the journey and being somewhat more anonymous than he was when he rushed for his career-high 198 yards on 14 carries against East Carolina in 2002 or dashed off "The Run" in the Orange Bowl against Miami.
"It's nice. You see what other people go through with the fans all recognizing them, the constant media," Wilson said. "I can go out to a restaurant or movie or something and nobody says anything. Some people will notice my build and remark that I must play something, but they don't know it is for the Bengals.
Wilson noted how hard it is, attention-wise, on players like former WVU wideout Chris Henry, with their skill and ability being wasted by mistake upon mistake while those with less ability are languishing in the NFL doldrums.
"You root for him, you really do," Wilson said. "He had worked his way up to the second receiver spot behind Chad Johnston and then things happened. You want him to turn it around, and I do think Chris is a good guy. He has just made mistakes, and you hope it is not too late for him now."
Wilson also wanted to express his gratitude to Mountaineer fans, especially those who still come up and speak with him, asking about his plays, his career, what he is doing now and if everything is fine with the state native.
"They keep tabs on you," he said. "Once you play here, you are always a Mountaineer. People still ask about different plays. I'm really thankful to all the West Virginia fans for their support while playing in front of them. My favorite memories here were of the Virginia Tech game (in 2002). I think that was special for people. We won down there, I had that big run (42 yards of his game-high 125, for WVU's final points in the 21-18 win) and we made that goal line stand."
Not Miami, circa 2003, when Wilson made the College Play of the Year, taking a 33-yard swing pass to the left side and avoiding two defenders before leveling Hurricane defensive back Brandon Meriweather – then hurdling him – to give WVU a 20-19 lead late in the fourth quarter?
"That was probably my best individual play, the most memorable one, but we didn't win," Wilson said. "If we hold on there, then it is. Winning there erases all the high school championships and everything. But we didn't, and that's the main thing. That's why you play, to win as a team."