As an eighth-grader.
To suggest Wilson had a difficult childhood would be an understatement. His parents were imprisoned for drug offenses. Without them, he was passed around the foster-care system as if he were a hot potato.
Inspired by the "Blind Side," the movie telling Michael Oher's similar path to the NFL — football became Wilson's "escape" from his reality. He might not have had a family but at least he had his teammates. It might not have been a good team — Georgia State's inaugural season was Wilson‘s freshman season — but it was better than the alternative.
As the saying goes, you can‘t keep a good man down.
"It can't get any worse," Wilson, a wide receiver and kick returner, said at the Scouting Combine. "Growing up taught me a lot of things that you have to deal with. Say I drop a ball, I've dealt with worse things in my life. It taught me how to bounce back and come back stronger."
Wilson was the equivalent of a one-man band for the Panthers and the face of the fledgling program. During his freshman season, Georgia State got throttled by Alabama 63-7. Wilson's 97-yard kickoff return, in which he ran through three tackles and sped away for the final 50 yards for a touchdown, accounted for the Panthers' scoring.
"I haven't watched it for a while but, when it first happened, I used to watch it all the time," he said.
It was just one play. One of a figurative million in his career. But it's also a play that speaks a million words.
"It means a lot to me. Any great play that you've accomplished at the college level on the stage that I made the play on, I feel that it's a great accomplishment," he said.
Wilson piled up 6,235 all-purpose yards during his four-year career, a figure that ranks in the top 30 in NCAA history. He caught 175 passes for 3,190 yards (18.2-yard average) and 23 touchdowns. He averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns and 9.2 yards per punt return.
To say Wilson is the best player in a 4-year-old program's history is like pointing to the tallest jockey at Churchill Downs. Still, the production is hard to ignore — which is perhaps why the Green Bay Packers, who historically have shown almost no interest in players of Wilson's stature (5-foot-9), were at Georgia State's pro day on Friday. Wilson, a potential late-round pick, is the only Georgia State player ranked among NFLDraftScout.com's top 999 players.
Wilson, who ran his 40 in 4.43 seconds at the Scouting Combine, owns the longest reception (93 yards), longest run (80), longest kickoff return (100) and longest punt return (62) in school history. He was part of six of the seven longest plays in program history, had 21 plays of 50-plus yards, scored 10 times from 70-plus yards and averaged 44.6 yards on his touchdown receptions.
As a senior, only Western Kentucky's do-it-all running back, Antonio Andrews, topped Wilson's 190.2 all-purpose yards per game. Wilson caught 71 passes for 1,177 yards (16.6 average) and eight touchdowns, rushed 24 times for 251 yards (10.5 average), and averaged 23.5 yards on kickoff returns and 8.3 yards on punt returns. Against Arkansas State, the three-time defending Sun Belt Conference champions, he scored on an 80-yard run and 70-yard pass. Against Troy, Wilson piled up 268 total yards with seven catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns and kickoff returns of 71 and 48 yards.
"My speed and my ability to catch the ball, the run after the catch," Wilson said of the strength of his game. "I can run routes like any receiver and I'm built like a running back, so it's hard to tackle me after the catch."
Humble and unassuming, Wilson said there is no "secret" to being a good returner. Rather, he pointed to his teammates for providing the blocking. Never mind that his teammates were overwhelmed most Saturdays, as the Panthers went 3-8 as an FCS independent in 2011, 1-10 in the FCS-level Colonial Athletic Association in 2012 and 0-12 in the FBS-level Sun Belt in 2013..
Not that it'll matter when the Packers are picking in the final rounds of the draft on May 10, but it's interesting to note that Lombardi-era center Bill Curry was Georgia State's architect and its coach from 2010 through 2012. Its current offensive coordinator is Jeff Jagodzinski, who served as Mike McCarthy's first offensive coordinator in 2006.
"Coach Curry says life is marked off in 100 yards," Wilson said. "I feel like everything you go through on the field, at some point in your life, you'll go through (a similar challenge) off the field."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.