Arkansas’ Wilson confident entering senior season

Tyler Wilson always believed in his ability, even before he

started a game at Arkansas.

A year ago, others may have doubted the fourth-year junior who

primarily sat on the bench for three seasons for the

Razorbacks.

Not Wilson, the kid from Greenwood, Ark., who grew up cheering

for his home-state school and wanted nothing more than to seize his

opportunity.

Watch out, Southeastern Conference.

The first-team All-SEC quarterback is back, armed with newfound

confidence heading into his second season as Arkansas’ starter.

It’s his first year as a top pro prospect – and his first as the

unquestioned leader of a team eager to show once and for all that

it belongs in the national championship discussion.

”I think there’s kind of that chip (on our shoulder) that there

wasn’t before,” Wilson said. ”There’s a little bit of that there,

and we want to prove some people wrong.”

Understanding where the chip Wilson talks about comes from isn’t

all that hard to figure out. Few, if any, other teams across the

country can relate to what Arkansas has been through over the past

four months.

The sequence of events that led to the firing of coach Bobby

Petrino for hiring his mistress, and John L. Smith’s eventual

hiring this spring are well known. What isn’t as publicized is how

the players rallied around each other following Petrino’s exit.

Leading the way during and after the turmoil was Wilson, who

bypassed the NFL draft a few months earlier and wasn’t about to

have his senior season derailed by Petrino. Wilson’s impact was

never clearer than before the Razorbacks spring game when he led

and spoke during the team’s final pregame huddle – a position of

authority usually reserved for the head coach.

”The way we kept it together was incredible,” Wilson said. ”I

think there are a lot of people in that room that weren’t ready to

quit, and I think they want to prove a lot of people wrong. I think

that willingness, that determination obviously brings you closer. I

think we’re closer now than we’ve ever been, in my view. That’s a

great reason we can be a lot more successful.”

Wilson cemented his teammates’ respect last season while

throwing for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns, leading Arkansas to an

11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. His final two

years on the bench were spent as the backup to former Arkansas and

current New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett.

The role wasn’t easy for Wilson, who was offered scholarships by

Alabama and LSU, among others, and now admits ”that was probably

one of the toughest times of my life.”

”It was tough, there’s no doubt about it that you question

yourself, you question kind of who you are a lot of times, what

your role is,” Wilson said. ”You have to accept it, swallow your

pride and be the second guy and do what’s best for the team. In a

lot of ways, that helps you down the road and helps me now not take

things for granted.”

Wilson was a relative unknown last summer while battling Brandon

Mitchell for the starting job. His only significant exposure had

come during a four-touchdown performance in 2010 against eventual

national champion Auburn while replacing an injured Mallett.

Still, Wilson was invited to serve as a camp counselor at last

year’s Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. It was an invite that

helped Wilson assess his talent against some of the other top

college quarterbacks.

Wilson served as a counselor at the camp again last week, this

time as an established veteran. He also used the opportunity to

measure himself against quarterbacks such as USC’s Matt Barkley.

Wilson came away full of confidence.

”There’s nothing like being a senior,” Denver Broncos

quarterback Peyton Manning said about Wilson. ”It gives you a

little kind of added swagger, I think, and I think he’ll have a

really good year. I certainly see the talent in him. I certainly

see him being a big NFL prospect, as well.”

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Wilson considered leaving Arkansas after

last season for the NFL. He won’t say where he was projected to be

drafted had he left the Razorbacks after his junior season. The

closest he will come is to say he received a ”pretty good

projection, and I had a feeling deep down inside I could have went

high.”

What Wilson will say is that he never regretted his decision to

return to school, even following the Petrino saga. He was confident

in his decision when he made it, just as he is confident in

Arkansas’ chances at competing for SEC and national championships

this season.

Wilson has come a long way in the last year, and his teammates

have taken notice.

The SEC could soon follow.

”I feel like when (Wilson) was behind Mallett, the difference

between those guys at one point was Mallett knew the game just a

little bit better,” Arkansas running back Knile Davis said. ”I

see that now in Tyler. Tyler understands the game now, he

understands the playbook and that’s making him even better than he

is. Plus, Tyler’s a winner. His work ethic is very good and he

wants to win and knows how to win.”