Dolphins take Montana DB in draft
DAVIE, Fla. (AP)
Minutes after being drafted by the Miami Dolphins, defensive back Jimmy Wilson said he had prayed for the triumphant moment every night, even during the two years he was jailed on a murder charge.
Wilson won acquittal in July 2009, was reinstated for his senior season at Montana in 2010 and made it to the NFL on Saturday when Miami took him in the seventh round.
The San Diego native said he would have been drafted much higher if not for his legal troubles.
''I feel like I am one of the top players in college football,'' Wilson said. ''My opportunity is here, and I want to take full advantage.''
The back story was less dramatic for the Dolphins' other three picks on the final day of the trade. They took speedy receiver Edmond Gates of Abilene Christian in the fourth round, Tulsa fullback and tight end Charles Clay in the sixth round and Alabama A&M defensive tackle Frank Kearse in the seventh round.
The 5-11, 185-pound Wilson seemed NFL-bound as far back as 2006, when he completed his third year as a starter. The following June he was charged in the shooting death of his aunt's boyfriend, Kevin Smoot, in the Los Angeles area.
Police said Wilson's aunt and Smoot had been fighting, and Wilson went to Smoot's home and fatally shot him in the upper torso with a rifle. Wilson contended he acted in self defense.
Unable to post the $2 million bail, Wilson remained jailed through a trial that ended with a hung jury, followed by a second trial and an acquittal. Wilson's attorney, Ken Staninger of Missoula, Mont., said the prosecutor refused to give up on the case.
''I think the kid is great,'' Staninger said. ''He had an unfortunate event. Who knows why they did what they did to him, but they did. I couldn't be happier for a young man who has worked so hard to get a second chance in life.''
Following Wilson's release from jail, the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility. Montana coach Robin Pflugrad praised his courage and strength of character through the episode.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said the team researched Wilson by talking with Montana officials and coaches, his former teammates and former coaches, and those involved with his legal case. Wilson also flew to Miami for an interview with Ireland.
''I wanted to make sure I knew everything, including what kind of kid he was before the charges,'' Ireland said. ''Spending two years in jail can change a man. So I did a lot of research. Those questions were answered for me.''
Wilson declined to talk about his legal trouble.
''The Dolphins did their research on me and got to know me and know exactly everything,'' he said.
A month after his acquittal, Wilson had another brush with the law a month when he was arrested for biting a woman on the leg in a car. Wilson said he was being playful and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
''I researched that thoroughly as well,'' Ireland said. ''I'm not concerned about it.''
Ireland said Wilson might have been drafted higher if not for the arrests. Slowed by a hamstring injury last season, he played eight games for Montana and made 50 tackles. He had no interceptions but totaled eight in his career.
The Dolphins project him as a potential safety or cornerback.
''He's an explosive player and a ferocious hitter, and he can really make an impact on special teams,'' Ireland said.
Gates also had a hiatus in his football career, but by choice. He quit the sport for six years before walking on at Abilene Christian.
In four seasons he caught 27 touchdown passes and the Dolphins' eye. Then at the NFL scouting combine he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, which he said the time was his slowest ever. His best? 4.21.
Gates expects to be the fastest player on the field.
''Yes sir. Even in the NFL,'' he said. ''I have never been in a race I have lost.''
The Dolphins need speed. They tied for last in the NFL with only two scoring drives lasting less than four plays. They had just six touchdown catches of at least 20 yards.
''Gates adds a different dynamic to the team,'' Ireland said. ''He's got a lot of speed and is very explosive.''
Gates quit football after his freshman year of high school in Vernon, Texas, because he was skinny and 5-foot-7. He focused on basketball and played it in junior college, but grew to 6-1 and was talked into giving football another try as a walk-on at Abilene Christian.
Doing the persuading were two Abilene Christian players - Gates' cousin, Bernard Scott, and a friend, Johnny Knox. Scott went on to become a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Knox is the Chicago Bears' top receiver and a former Pro Bowl kick returner.
Now Gates joins them in the NFL.
''Crazy,'' he said.
The 6-foot-3, 239-pound Clay also has a knack for reaching the end zone. He was often used as a passing target at Tulsa, where he had 28 touchdown catches in four seasons.
The Dolphins envision using him as a tight end, in the backfield and in the slot.
''One thing we wanted to get away from is predictability,'' coach Tony Sparano said. ''When you have players with flexibility and speed, that helps.''
Despite concerns about the inconsistency of quarterback Chad Henne, the Dolphins didn't draft anyone to challenge him.
''We certainly looked at all the quarterbacks in depth,'' Ireland said. ''The board didn't fall right for us to pick up a quarterback. I didn't feel like we were desperate for one.''
Miami likely will shop for a quarterback in free agency whenever the lockout ends.