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
Not Wilson, the kid from Greenwood, Ark., who grew up cheering
for his home-state school and wanted nothing more than to seize his
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
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
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
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
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.”