An immediate game-changer?
COLUMBUS, Ohio – There came a point last January when the rumors had overflowed the Twitterverse and all a bunch of grown, rich men representing at least two NFL organizations and a handful (or more) of major college football programs nationwide could do was wait for the ticker at the bottom of their TV screens to tell them, finally and officially, what Chip Kelly had decided to do.
A teenager in DeSoto, Texas, was watching, too. And those grown, rich men representing those college programs were watching their TVs because they’d spent years watching this teenager, who was committed to play for Kelly at Oregon but had let it be known that if Kelly left for the NFL, his recruitment would again be open.
Late in the morning of Jan. 16, Kelly officially accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Immediately, Dontre Wilson knew he wasn’t going to have a quiet lunch.
“My phone was ringing off the hook,” Wilson said. “My high school coach’s phone was ringing off the hook.”
Wilson recognized many of the numbers. The one that started with 6-1-4 was Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. In-state programs Texas and Texas A&M were calling, too — and they weren’t the only ones. Oregon was re-recruiting him, Baylor immediately dispatched coaches to DeSoto to visit Wilson in person.
Herman hadn’t taken “no” for answer throughout the process, even when Wilson’s answer was no. Refusing to leave the doorstep, so to speak, had put him in position to ring the doorbell and ask Wilson one more time to reconsider.
“(Herman) was calling me every chance he could, as many times as (the NCAA) allowed him to,” Wilson said. “When he came to visit me, he kept fighting and fighting and fighting. Then when Chip Kelly finally went to the NFL, I told him I wanted to take that visit.
“I did, I enjoyed it, and I committed.”
There was much rejoicing in Columbus. The Ohio State staff saw the lightning-fast Wilson as a missing piece and now, 10 or so days into his first training camp, it’s clear that the 5’10, 180-pound Wilson is no ordinary freshman.
“He can really fly,” Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller said. “He’s a special kid. You could tell from the very first day.”
Both Herman and head coach Urban Meyer had been recruiting Wilson for Ohio State. Meyer, who’s usually Ohio State’s closer of sorts, gets more involved, earlier, with high-priority recruits like Wilson. Herman is Ohio State’s primary Texas recruiter in addition to its lead scientist in the department of offensive explosion. Both knew what adding Wilson might mean, both immediately and in the future, for a Buckeyes offense that was fast-paced and different but far from complete last season.
Herman said last week that the Buckeyes’ influx of youth and speed for this season “is more than just Wilson,” and that the offense will be better because all of the team’s skill-position players are better and more comfortable with the system. But it’s because of guys like Wilson that the full playbook can be unleashed.
“You’re able to kind of mix and match what you think needs to be accomplished, rather than being handcuffed a little bit by the personnel you inherited,” Herman said.
Said Meyer: “Here’s how we evaluate offense — get the player to the second level (of the defense). The second level, that’s when you see this crazy stuff that God’s blessed these incredible athletes with. That’s called big hits. We were not a big-hits team last year. We got to second level, and lots of times the second level made the tackle, which is (still) good. We led the Big Ten in scoring, but 12 months later, it’s not what we’re what expecting.”
Meyer told reporters during the first week of camp that Wilson “is a running back…with a unique skill set” and “electric speed.” The head coach has put a lock on access to training camp and hidden the key, so we don’t know exactly how he’ll be used. What Wilson has said about his talks with Meyer during his recruitment, though, offers at least a clue.
“When Coach Meyer was recruiting me, he said if I was to come here that (Percy Harvin role) would be the role that I would play and so far, yes, that has been the role,” Wilson said. “That’s when I first remember knowing about Urban Meyer, that (2008) Florida team that beat Oklahoma and featured Percy Harvin. That’s something I’d love to be a part of.
“When the offense needs a spark or a big play, I feel like I can change the game. Coach Meyer told me this (2013) class was recruited for speed. We have a lot of speed in this class and I feel like I can be a big part of it.”
The recruitment has been over for six months now. Wilson said “all the calls…kind of got annoying” but made sure to say he appreciated the interest.
“It’s better to be wanted than not,” he said.
Now, three weeks before his college debut, Wilson again has a whole lot of people in Ohio wanting to see what’s in store.