Butch Davis seemingly enjoys nothing more than utilizing the complex hybrid position that former Miami Hurricane Jeremy Shockey made famous during the third-year head coach’s tenure in South Florida. The recipe includes a mix of two parts tight end, one part running back and one part fullback.
In other words, you have to possess the size to block defensive linemen, the speed to outrun linebackers, the hands to catch a variety of passes and the ability to take a handoff and follow your blockers. Sounds easy enough, right?
The difficulty of the position made Wilson a critical recruit in the class of ’08, as Davis and Co. swooped in and convinced the McKees Rocks, Pa. native to sign with the Tar Heels instead of Michigan. The description of the H-back role was one of the final dominoes that fell in Wilson’s decision to play ball in Chapel Hill.
“I liked it because it’s similar to what I did in high school,” said Wilson, who rushed for 2,036 yards and 28 touchdowns as a high school senior. “I would be lined up here sometimes and run a route, or I’d be lined up on the other side and get a handoff. It’s pretty much the same thing here. It’s just trying to learn the system every way possible and learn how to read defenses and that’s when Coach Shoop will be able to use me in different situations.”
Unfortunately for Wilson, he suffered an undisplaced fractured fibula just weeks prior to enrolling at North Carolina last summer, forcing him to play catch-up in learning the H-back responsibilities during training camp. But while an injury put the sophomore at an early disadvantage last fall, another one – this time to starting H-back Zack Pianalto’s ankle – allowed Wilson (two receptions for 19 yards) to see his first action against Notre Dame and paved the way for significant playing time over the final eight games of the season.
“I thought it was big-time – the difference was crazy,” Wilson replied when asked about the magnitude of the change from high school to college ball. “… I started off slow. I was a little nervous. But once I started hitting the last four games of the season, I started to realize that I could go and just use my talents and just play football, so I started to feel more comfortable.”
Wilson stepped foot on campus as a freshman weighing 220 pounds, and now the 6-foot-3 H-back checks in at 240 pounds with a minimal decrease in his foot speed. While his standard 40-yard dash time usually floats around 4.65, an off-balance start in strength-and-conditioning tests this summer saddled him with an official 4.8
And now that Wilson is participating in his first full training camp, he’s finding the increased workload – thanks to injuries afflicting Pianalto and senior Ryan Taylor – as a difficult transition.
“[Tight ends] coach [Allen Mogridge] sat us all down and told us that he was going to do that throughout training camp so that we’ll actually have legs and not get murdered every day,” Wilson said. “But now that they’re hurt, the reps – I’m not arguing with them, but at the same time, they get to you a little bit.”
There is one area where Wilson spent the majority of his offseason focusing on – blocking.
“I was not a very good blocker, because in high school all I did was run the ball,” Wilson said. “So when I came here, they taught me how to fit blocks. Most of the blocks that I did do were more or less impact blocks from a distance, running into people. I didn’t really do on-point blocks.”
While Wilson doesn’t see much work with the bigger tight ends in some of the regular personnel packages, he believes that he’s mastered his role in offensive coordinator John Shoop’s kings and aces sets, which should present him with plenty of playing time this fall.
“I worked hard over the summer to play more in games this fall,” Wilson said. “Coach Davis has talked about how he wants to get his tight ends more receptions and in practice we’ve getting a lot more balls, and I’ve been catching pretty well. So hopefully [I can] get a couple of catches, score some touchdowns and obviously win.”
Keep an eye out for No. 33 this fall, who may be blocking, running the ball or catching passes for T.J. Yates on any given play – all from the same position, of course.