While walking through the University Bookstore last week to pick up books for summer school, Virginia Tech running back David Wilson glanced toward the magazine rack.
There was Oprah on one cover … President Obama on another … Katy Perry on a third …
And then “Whoa, that’s me,” Wilson exclaimed after a double take. “I’ve never been on the front of a magazine.”
Wilson, who is actually featured on the cover of several college football previews, will be front-page news this fall as the Hokies’ featured running back following the early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans.
The speedy Wilson, who rushed for 619 yards and five touchdowns last year, led the ACC in kickoff returns, averaging 26.5 yards per return. He brought back two for touchdowns. His 92-yard return of the second-half kickoff at N.C. State sparked the Hokies to a 41-30 come-from-behind win. And his 90-yard kickoff return was the difference in the Hokies’ 28-21 over Georgia Tech a month later.
While he’s poised for a tremendous season on the football field, it’s also been an eventful spring thus far in track for Wilson, who excels in the triple jump.
The Tech junior jumped 51 feet to win the competition at the Penn Relays. He had a mark of 52 feet, 6.75 inches at the ACC’s outdoor meet. And he jumped 51 feet, 5 inches at the NCAA East Regional and qualified for the NCAA Championships. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who spends most of his time working on football.
If you’ve followed the Hokies over the years, you know that David Wilson is one of the fastest players ever at Virginia Tech, but he’s also one of the most intriguing as well. He’s always wearing three things: a shirt, a tie and a big smile. Wilson is just as polite and well mannered as he is athletic.
I had the chance to visit with David recently to talk about his sensational spring and look ahead to this coming football season.
BR: The story about you at the bookstore is pretty funny. You’re up there on the covers with Oprah, eh?
DW: Yeah, [James] Hopper dropped me off to run in and grab my books and I was like ‘Whoa, that’s me!’ I’ve never been on a cover before.
BR: It’s a big honor, but a big responsibility, too, no?
DW: For sure. I’d hate to be one of those guys who doesn’t reach his potential. I have a big responsibility to our team and our fans and my family.
BR: We’re going to talk football in a bit, but you’ve had a remarkable spring in the triple jump, including winning the event at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Tell us about that.
DW: Well, I had never been there before, so I didn’t know what to expect. And it was cold, and I hadn’t really jumped in weather that cold before, so that was different. We got there and I heard the crowd cheering, and I asked one of my teammates, ‘Is this a football game?’ I had never heard the crowd roar at a track event like the Penn Relays.
BR: So then you win the event, competing against these other major college guys who practice the triple jump all year. That must be odd for them.
DW: Yeah, I hear them whispering, ‘That dude’s a football player. That’s the football guy.’ It’s kinda funny.
BR: Yeah, so are you better in track or football?
BR: You excel in both sports, but that means more practice time, more hours away from friends and such. Why do you like track so much?
DW: It’s the competition. I love the competition. Getting ready to compete against the best brings out the best in me, and I thrive on that. I just love seeing what the other guy has done, and then seeing if I can out-jump him.
BR: Well, a lot of eyes are going to be on you this fall. Darren is gone. Ryan is gone. It’s your turn.
DW: I’ve been looking forward to this a lot. I’ve been waiting for this moment and this pressure. I do better under pressure, always have. Just perform better when the pressure’s on.
BR: Tell me how you think you’ve improved as a running back since you first came to Tech.
DW: Well, in high school, you don’t have to pay attention to small details and still be successful. You’re a lot stronger and faster than everyone else out there on the field and so you just go out and play. In college, it’s not that way so I had to adjust.
BR: What do you mean by ‘pay attention to small details?’ Give us some examples.
DW: You have to read your blocker more. You have to read the defender on each play and his body language. You always have to be thinking ‘What’s my next step?’
I’ve slowed down the process, too. When I first got here, I was going fast all the time. But then you look on tape and learn the key is to set up your blocker and then go. It doesn’t do any good to get there before my blocker. So I’ve learned to understand when to slow down and make the right read.
BR: Then you just go and just let it rip, like the kickoff returns at N.C. State and Georgia Tech last year?
DW: Yeah, exactly. I told the guys in the locker room at halftime at N.C. State that if the ball was in the air, I was bringing it (the second-half kickoff) back. That was a huge momentum thing in that ball game.
BR: It was. I thought you might have been going even faster on the kickoff return in the Georgia Tech game, too. Maybe it was the crowd, but you were zooming.
DW: Might have been. That was huge, too, because they had just tied the game and it was late in the fourth quarter and we needed it. It was loud, though.
BR: What’s your height and weight right now?
DW: I’m 5-11.5 and 205.
BR: Is that where you want to be?
DW: It’s a little heavy for the triple jump, to be honest, but good for football.
BR: Let’s talk about this fall. What are fair goals for this 2011 team?
DW: Well, we have a lot of new people – new quarterback, new running back and new coaches. I do want to get back to the Orange Bowl and win it this time. That would be sweet.
BR: Among the new coaches is Shane Beamer, your new position coach. How has that been?
DW: That’s been good. He puts my energy to use. We match each other with our energy and our intensity.
BR: There was a different feel in the spring. So many new faces on the field and on the sidelines. Did you sense that?
DW: I think this team will be a little different. In the past, I don’t want to say we were cocky or overconfident, but we had Ryan and we had Tyrod [Taylor] and we had all these great players and there was this build up, and then we go out and lose our first game. This year, we don’t know what to expect in a lot of ways. We are confident because we have a lot of talent and a lot guys coming back. But I think the focus is on working hard for all of us.
BR: You wear the shirt and tie every day. But the smile, too. Where does that come from?
DW: I was raised that way. I’m just a positive person, a positive guy. My parents are that way, and I guess it rubbed off on me. I try to live that way every day and maybe it will positively affect other people, too.
BR: All right, cover boy, time for the lightning round questions. You ready?
DW: Go for it.
BR: Favorite song?
DW: Hustle Hard, Ace Hood
BR: Recent movie you liked?
DW: Hangover II, but it wasn’t as good as the first one. I’ll go with Bridesmaid, which I saw two weeks ago.
BR: If you practiced the triple jump year round, how far could you jump?
DW: 54 feet.
BR: Favorite place to eat on campus?
DW: West End.
DW: Wrap World. They’ve got good wraps there.
BR: Other than Lane Stadium, what’s your favorite place to play?
DW: Wow, never thought of that. I’d say GW Stadium in Danville (his high school’s stadium).
BR: Name the opposing dude who’s hit you the hardest.
DW: Dang. I’d say Cody Grimm. He rocked me in practice. Seriously, he killed me once in a scrimmage. As for other teams, I’d say the guys from Miami. Ask any player on our team. Miami hits harder than anyone. They are ruthless.
BR: Who is the one guy on our team who is most likely to crack you up?
DW: Haha. I’d say Antone Exum or Telvion Clark.
BR: Finally, why are you wearing Eddie Royal’s jersey (No. 4)?
DW: Haha. There’s a good story to this. It’s my mom’s favorite number. She was born on April 4, so it’s 4/4. So I wear No. 4 in her honor.
Having watched Wilson for a couple of years, we’ve seen his talent and his capabilities. Observing him engage with his teammates on both of his teams, track and football, has been very interesting as well. Initially, he stands out because of his professional wardrobe and his infectious smile. But he’s off-the-charts humble and polite, which makes him a popular guy in the locker room and on the practice fields. You can understand that it takes a special guy to be a star on the football team and yet experience exceptional success competing in a second sport at the same time. (As a side note, credit Coach Frank Beamer and staff for letting Wilson miss much of spring football so he could pursue his track endeavors. That’s a positive for David and the track program, and from a recruiting standpoint in the future, too.)
When I first talked with David a few years ago when he was still in high school, he told the story on his conversation with then-University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer. During the recruiting process, Meyer suggested if Wilson signed with the Gators, he could be the next Percy Harvin.
Wilson responded that he didn’t want to be the next anyone. He wanted to be the first David Wilson.
So far, he’s done exactly that.
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