Wilson big-play threat for No. 1 Mississippi State
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) When De'Runnya Wilson arrived at Mississippi State less than two years ago, he didn't really know how to study a football playbook or have any idea about the technique needed to play receiver in the Southeastern Conference.
Turns out the 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore is a very fast learner.
The 20-year-old Wilson has emerged as No. 1 Mississippi State's primary big-play threat in the passing game, catching six touchdown passes so far this season. The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) will be trying to win their 10th straight game, dating back to last season, when they travel to face Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday.
Most of Wilson's high school days were spent on the basketball court, where he was a standout player in Birmingham, Alabama. But he also played football during his senior season and quickly caught the attention of college scouts.
Now that raw potential has turned into real results. Wilson said he's heard teammates and coaches compare his skillset to Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson, but he tries to ignore that talk.
Wilson made a brief foray into college hoops last year, appearing in seven games off the bench for Mississippi State. Basketball coach Rick Ray liked having Wilson's energy off the bench, but even he admitted Wilson should probably stick with football because ''he's got a chance to play on Sundays.''
''Sometimes I wonder what my potential is - what I'm capable of doing,'' Wilson said. ''But I just keep trying to have that mindset of improving and making my team better. I don't want to ever get comfortable because I'm afraid I won't work as hard today or tomorrow.''
Wilson leads the team with 18 catches for 319 yards through six games. Maybe his most impressive moment came two weeks ago in a win against Auburn, when he made a catch on a deep ball and then dragged Auburn defender Jonathan Jones into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown.
The play highlighted Wilson's rare blend of size and speed. Quarterback Dak Prescott says he gains more confidence in Wilson every week.
''He's very athletic and his basketball career really gives him an advantage,'' Prescott said. ''He goes up and knows how to box out a defender without using his hands. He has good body control and goes up for every pass like it's a rebound.''
Wilson's emergence has been especially important because the Bulldogs have been without last year's leading receiver Jameon Lewis, who has missed the past two games with a leg injury.
Mullen expects Lewis to return for the Kentucky game, but Wilson will still have a major role.
''That shook me up a little to see (Lewis) go down,'' Wilson said. ''But when you have people around you to push you harder, you feed off each other, and when we found out he wasn't playing, we locked in as a group and wanted to make the plays he's been making.''
Wilson said Lewis' return should help both receivers because Kentucky will have to figure to account for each of them.
Lewis is a 5-foot-9, 183-pound receiver who is a constant threat on short passing plays over the middle. That could draw attention away from Wilson, leaving one-on-one matchups down the field.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Wilson is a hard worker in practice, which has allowed him to pick up the nuances of playing receiver.
''I still think he has a lot of improvement he can make, but he's got very, very natural ball skills,'' Mullen said. ''I think the ability with his ball skills and his body control certainly helps him, and his size (creates mismatches). When he gets himself in position, he's very natural catching the ball and it allows him to make a lot of big plays.''
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP