FAYETTEVILE, Ark. — Tyler Wilson had a moment before the Alabama game when he wanted to do anything but heed his doctors’ orders.
Concussion or not, the Arkansas quarterback wanted to play against the No. 1 Crimson Tide.
“Give me my helmet,” Wilson thought. “I don’t care what anybody else says, I’m playing.”
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Of course, Wilson didn’t play in the 52-0 drubbing at the hands of Alabama. The first-team All-Southeastern Conference quarterback couldn’t overrule what he said was an absolute “no” from his doctors.
The Razorbacks (1-2) put up little fight against the Crimson Tide without Wilson, losing their second straight game and putting an early end to their preseason hopes of a national championship run. They face another difficult test at home against Rutgers (3-0) on Saturday, and Wilson is “extremely optimistic” he’ll be able to play.
Wilson acknowledged for the first time Monday that a concussion that kept him out of the second half of a loss to Louisiana-Monroe and the Alabama game. Arkansas had previously referred only to a head injury, but Wilson said he suffered from headaches and other symptoms.
“I didn’t feel like my 100-percent self,” he said.
The senior practiced sparingly last week and even took part in warm-ups before the game against the Crimson Tide. However, he knew he hadn’t been cleared by doctors and wouldn’t play, viewing the throwing session as just another step in his recovery.
After bypassing the NFL draft following last season, Wilson listened to the doctors about his health — with regard to both his short- and long-term future.
“You have some of that,” Wilson said. “But the deal is you’ve got to play football. That’s why I came back. I’m not going to risk my complete health, but when I feel good enough to play and I feel good right now … I feel a lot better, and I think it will continue to get better. I’m going to be out there on the field, period.”
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said he’s preparing this week as though Wilson will play in the nonconference matchup, the schools’ first meeting.
“And I think to do it any other way would be a mistake,” Flood said. “He’s one of the elite quarterbacks in the country. So, you don’t get to be an elite quarterback just on physical talent alone. He’s obviously a tremendous leader for their program, and when he steps on the field he probably makes everybody else in the huddle more confident just by his presence alone.”
Wilson took part in Arkansas’ practice Sunday night, running with his teammates while working to get back on the field this week against the Scarlet Knights. It was less than a day after Wilson had publicly questioned the effort of some of those teammates during an impromptu news conference following the Alabama loss, a game in which Wilson said he thought the Razorbacks “gave up.”
Arkansas coach John L. Smith praised Wilson’s statement and said the Razorbacks will prepare this week as though they’ll have their starting quarterback against Rutgers. Smith said Arkansas will also continue to prepare redshirt freshman Brandon Allen and junior Brandon Mitchell should Wilson be unable to play.
The two were a combined 11 of 25 passing for 79 yards against Alabama, a game in which Arkansas looked like anything but the team that finished last season ranked No. 5 and with a win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
“It was good to see (Wilson) get up and talk,” Smith said. “He’s the spokesman of our football team. And I think he’s saying nothing more than we all have to be accountable, we all have to go to the field and we all have to get our jobs done. That’s something we talked about as a football team last night. We all have to be accountable. Let’s go get it done. Playmakers make plays.”
The native of Greenwood, Ark., said his intention wasn’t to speak to the team following the loss, but rather to fans across the state.
“And I wanted everybody to know that that is not acceptable here, and going forward we are going to do the best we can,” Wilson said. “I’m going to do the best I can to keep everybody together and display a much better product out there on the field. Period.”