Chicago Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson, the team's seventh-round pick, came to the game of football much later than most of his fellow rookies. But once he perfected his craft, he found immediate success.
"I've been asked a lot why I didn't start football earlier," Wilson said today after his first practice at Bears rookie minicamp. "I don't have any answer. I guess looking back I was just too busy doing other things. But one thing I definitely loved was to run. When I was a freshman in high school, maybe 13, 14 years old, it dawned on me that I could run while playing football. A lot of my friends were going out for the team. It seemed like the right time for me to do that as well."
Wilson started just about every game in which he appeared that first season, while also lettering in track and field and basketball. As a junior, the Tulare, Cal. native was named All-Tulare County Athlete of the Year for his achievements in all three sports.
He then followed his cousin, Ronnie Lee, to play football at Washington State University, where he started eight of 12 games his freshman season for the Cougars. By his junior year in 2012, Wilson was honored as one of Yahoo! Sports Breakthrough Athletes after breaking WSU single-season records in catches (83) and receiving yards (1,388).
Yet his turbulent, premature departure from the WSU team midway through last season caused considerable controversy and resulted in this talented athlete falling to the Bears in the final round of the draft. It's something Wilson is trying to put in the past.
"I really have no comment about what happened in college," Wilson said. "Enough has been said about that whole thing already. This is a time to look forward and to be productive for the Bears. I'm in the NFL now. This is a fresh beginning for me and I plan to make the most of the opportunity."
What Wilson brings to the table for Chicago is an athletic, lightning-quick receiver with excellent ball skills.
"There's a reason I was one of the top 25 college receivers last year," Wilson said. "I think I have gift for seeing a play unfolding. I'm good at grabbing the ball. My instincts are excellent and I have a reliable burst of speed."
At the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and was second amongst all receivers in the three-cone drill (6.65). At 6-3, 194 pounds, Wilson has a lean build but in his eyes, it's not a matter of concern.
"I came here to learn to train effectively, to gain muscle, and to increase my bulk if necessary," he said. "My speed and my ability to cut are what I bring as my top skills. If they need me to play a little heavier, then that's fine with me."
While he has plenty of confidence, Wilson, just 20 years old, realizes he still has a lot to prove.
"I'm here to learn from the best. I know that I'm the youngest one here so it's up to me to prove that I have the correct mindset and that I'm ready to play."
Although he knew little about the Bears' franchise before draft weekend, Wilson has been doing his homework about the team ever since.
"I've done my research," he said. "Chicago has the best players, the best coaches. I know they will be willing to help me raise my game so I can contribute to this team effectively. What happened at WSU is in the rear view mirror now. I'm thrilled to be here. Making it to the NFL is a dream come true for me. I am eager to do what the coaches ask me to do. I've always been a hard worker and I am willing to give this 110 percent of my effort."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.