When David Wilson and his family returned to their Danville, Va., home on Sunday, Jan. 11, they received a surprising phone call from the football offices at the University of Florida.
The timing of the call in itself, and the message delivered from Gainesville, Fla., were both extraordinary for Wilson, one of the nation’s top-rated high school football running backs.
In previous months, Wilson got plenty of calls from coaches at Alabama, Auburn, Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and others. He is that good.
After all, when you average 11.4 yards per carry and total 1,551 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior, recruiters notice.
When you are the reigning indoor and outdoor track state champion in the triple jump and set a national record by jumping an astonishing 49 feet, 4.5 inches, even more people are going to notice.
So the Wilsons grew very familiar with the recruiting process and understood that when the phone rang, it could be Nick Saban (Alabama), Rich Rodriguez (Michigan), Butch Davis (UNC) or any major coach on the other end.
Most of those calls ended last summer. Wilson committed to Virginia Tech in July and Hokie fans everywhere began to follow his incredible senior season in which he rushed for nearly 2,300 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was named Virginia’s Gatorade player of the year and was considered one of the most talented high school prospects in America. He was playing for the George Washington Eagles on Friday nights, but he was a Hokie fan on Saturdays, as just about everyone knew – even the Gators.
But back to that phone call.
Florida had won the BCS championship on Thursday, Jan. 8, with its victory over Oklahoma, and at some point within the 72 hours following that game, Virginia Beach, Va., product Percy Harvin, the Gators’ star junior receiver and runner, informed his coach, Urban Meyer, that he intended to jump to the NFL. Needing to fill that void late, Meyer and Florida running backs coach Kenny Carter thought it was worth a shot to call Wilson upon the team’s return to Gainesville.
“They called me the Sunday after the national championship game,” Wilson said. “Coach Carter called and they said they really wanted me. Then he put Coach Meyer on. They said Percy Harvin was going to leave for the NFL and would announce in a few days. They wanted me to know before the media found out. And then they said that I could be the next Percy. They said they really wanted me down there badly.”
Wilson wanted to be loyal to Tech. But this was Urban Meyer and the Gators – the national champs and the team that could be preseason No. 1 next year with its entire defense returning.
Wilson consulted his family and his head coach Dan Newell.
“He listened to [Florida] genuinely,” Newell said. “He thought it through. But you know, all along, David didn’t want to be a ‘slash’ player like Percy. We had to use him here (at GW) like that out of necessity, but he didn’t want that in college. He turned down a lot of teams that wanted to use him in the spread. We heard a lot of recruiters use Percy Harvin as an example, but David wants to be a traditional running back. Line up in the ‘I’ [formation] and pound the rock.”
Wilson was honored by the Gators’ interest, but declined. “I’m a man of my word,” he said later.
Wilson did sign with Virginia Tech this past week, marking the fifth time in the past nine years that the Commonwealth’s top-ranked prospect has signed with Tech – Bryan Randall (2001), Xavier Adibi (2003), Macho Harris (2005) and Tyrod Taylor (2007) are the others.
So you know he can run like the wind and jump like he’s on a trampoline. You know he goes to church every Sunday and honors his commitments, even if the sexy Gators made a very attractive last-minute pitch.
Want more? He’s GQ, too.
Ask anyone in Danville, and they’ll tell you that David Wilson is one sharp-dressed man.
“He wears slacks and a tie every day to school,” Newell said. “If he’s not in a tie, he’s in a turtle neck and slacks. He wants to look the part of a scholarship athlete, and so he gets dressed up for school. Every day.”
Wilson wants to set an image. An image of what a star scholarship athlete should look like in the classroom. To him, that means a shirt-and-tie, not the Abercrombie hoodie.
So, now we know he can run and jump and goes to church. He honors his commitments and approaches his third period chemistry class as if he’s attending an Esquire magazine cover shoot.
In January, Wilson drove to Washington, D.C., with his family to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“It was amazing to be there,” Wilson said. “Seeing people there of all races and all generations was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How cool is it to be alive during the period in time when history is made? It was great to be there. Something I’ll never forget.”
When’s the last time you heard an 18-year-old say this is a “cool time to be alive?”
Well it is a ‘cool time,’ if you’re David Wilson and you’re about to graduate high school where you’ve made your mark in so many ways. And also, where in your personal life, you strive to be a leader and have the mental makeup to comprehend and truly appreciate the significance of both a well-done double-Windsor and a Presidential inauguration.
In school, in church, with his teammates or during a telephone interview, he strives to come across as caring, cerebral and engaging. Because … well … he is.
“No question he is going to be one of the good guys,” Newell said. “He’s rock solid. He’s laid back, almost like a California kid.”
But he’s not laid back on the football field.
This 5-foot-11, 195-pound physical tailback is already a household name throughout Virginia. They’re still buzzing about his 351-yard night against Franklin County down there, and his 332-yard performance against Matoaca. In December, he was named MVP of the Hawaii/Polynesia-Mainland Bowl in Hawaii after scoring two touchdowns in helping the Mainland team beat the Hawaii home team 22-8.
He has not decided if he’ll play in the Virginia all-star game in Hampton this summer, but now he is excited to come to Blacksburg.
“I just felt the most comfortable there,” Wilson said. “The coaches were like family. They were just able to really connect with me.”
He added that the competition in the backfield will make him better and he’s well aware of the talents of Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.
Virginia Tech’s had a number of outstanding people and players from the GW program, including Cam and Orion Martin and Kenny Lewis, Jr., on this year’s team. All are terrific young men and outstanding players. Clearly, Wilson is in that mold.
And no doubt a very welcome addition to the Virginia Tech family.
Other recruiting nuggets:
• In Wilson and Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech signed two players of The Roanoke Times’ top five players for 2009. Over the past seven recruiting classes, Virginia Tech has signed 18 of the 35 players named to that top-five list, far more than any other school. As we can see now, 2006 was clearly an anomaly. That was Harvin’s senior year when the entire top five opted to play football outside of Virginia. That stat shows the Hokies can win some serious recruiting battles (see Wilson, Ryan Williams, Vince Hall, Davon Morgan, etc.).
• With Wilson’s decision to come to Tech, Florida turned its attention to Andre Dubose, a speedy receiver from Sanford, Fla., who committed to the Gators the following week. You’ll be hearing his name in the future seasons for UF.
Now that recruiting is done for 2009, you can see video of each of the Hokies’ signees, with commentary from recruiting coordinator Jim Cavanaugh at events throughout the state. Here’s the schedule:
· Richmond Hokie Club – Monday, February 16
· Roanoke Hokie Club – Tuesday, February 17
· NOVA Hokie Club – Thursday, February 19
· Battlefield Hokie Club – Friday, February 20 (luncheon)
· Charlottesville Hokie Club – Friday, February 20
· Charlotte Hokie Club – Monday, February 23
· Tidewater Hokie Club – Tuesday, February 24
· Lynchburg Hokie Club – Thursday, February 26
· Pulaski County Hokie Club – Tuesday, March 17
See www.hokieclub.com for more details.
• I’ll be speaking at the Shenandoah Valley Athletic Club monthly dinner meeting on Feb. 12. The event will be at the Ramada Inn, 1 Pleasant Valley Road, I-81 Exit 243, in Harrisonburg. The event starts at 6 p.m., with dinner at 6:45. The cost is $15. Reservations can be made through Brad Chewning at 540-434-3913. More information can be found here: www.shenvalleysports.org.
For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).