Former Gophers teammates helping LB Wilson during NFL draft process
INDIANAPOLIS — Damien Wilson isn’t going through the NFL Scouting Combine process alone. He’s getting help every day from his former Gophers teammates, Maxx Williams and David Cobb.
Williams has completed each phase of the combine two days before Wilson, while Cobb is one day ahead of him. So, while Williams and Cobb are learning as they go, Wilson has the benefit of knowing exactly what’s coming next.
"He really gives me the scoop," Wilson said of Williams. "Like, I knew that we were going to have to get up for a 4:30 drug test the first day I got here. Maxx texted me and he told me all about it."
For an inside linebacker who was considered a bit of a surprise invite to the combine, it’s incredibly valuable to not walk blindly along while getting analyzed and scrutinized for the biggest job interview of his life.
"You can compare notes, but even more than that it brings a certain comfort," Wilson said. "Teammates that you spent two years with, played with and were in the locker room with. And you can just talk to them; relate to them, at the end of the day."
Even with the assistance from Williams and Cobb, the combine is a lot to take in for the 21-year-old Wilson. But he understands why it’s set up the way it is.
"You’ve got to check the expiration date before you buy a carton of milk," Wilson said.
Wilson took the long, less-traveled path to get to the combine. He began his college career at Alcorn State after not getting any attention from bigger programs before transferring to Jones County Community College for his sophomore season.
It was while playing at the junior college level that schools like Minnesota first took notice of him.
"There’s been a lot of adversity on the road I took," Wilson said. "But it’s all paid off and made me a better person, taught me to be humble, brought me down to earth. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Wilson wasn’t surprised that it took a couple years of low-level college football for more prominent universities to start paying attention to him. Growing up in Gloster, Miss. and attending Amite County High School — "the middle of nowhere," Wilson said — didn’t exactly bring out the top scouts from across the country.
"So I can’t really fault them for not knowing where it’s at," Wilson said. "But it all worked out, you know. Just look at me now."
Wilson officially measured in at 6-foot, 245 pounds, which is shorter and heavier than he was listed at while playing at Minnesota (6-foot-2, 240 pounds). He had yet to complete any of the athletic testing when he met with the media, but Wilson had been training hardest for the 40-yard dash.
"For the last month I’ve been a track guy, pretty much," he said. "I’m pretty sure everybody else has to. But everybody looks at the 40, they grade you off the 40. You can have the most spectacular season and mess up in the 40 and they’re going to look at you sideways.
"So for the last past month I’ve been a track (guy); I’ve been Usain Bolt."
Wilson is definitely a stat-sheet stuffer. He had 119 tackles during his senior season, the most by any Gophers player since 2011. Wilson also led Minnesota with 10.5 tackles for loss and was tied for No. 1 with four sacks.
With numbers like that, it’s obvious why Wilson would rather have NFL teams focus on what he’s already done rather than what happens inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.
"I think it shouldn’t be that much emphasis," Wilson said of the 40-yard dash. "I think some more should be on film, on tape, what you did over the course of the season. Because a lot of times that speed on the field doesn’t always translate to straight-line speed in the 40 yards."
Wilson won’t know until the first couple days of May where his football career will continue. But it was a realization for him two years ago that he might have a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
"The moment I got to Minnesota," Wilson said, "because I was thinking, like, big-time program. If I go here and do all the right things, then maybe I would have a shot. And sure enough, it came true."
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