Some college football observers think Virginia Tech running back David Wilson could be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
Now, there’s a long way to go before the award is handed out. And while it traditionally goes to a running back or quarterback – it might as well be the “best running back or quarterback in college football” award – it has gone to a quarterback in nine of the past 11 years. Running backs won in 2005 (Reggie Bush, later vacated) and 2009 (Mark Ingram).
Wilson should put up monster numbers in Tech’s first four games – Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall – but for now, he isn’t thinking about the Heisman. Nor should he, because preseason speculation about things like that are nothing more than fun bar-stool chatter.
He simply can’t wait for Saturday’s opener against Appalachian State to arrive.
“I catch myself sometimes just zoning out thinking about Saturday,” he said. “When Saturday comes, it’s really going to be here, and I can’t wait.”
Wilson, a junior, is making his long-awaited (especially by him) debut as Tech’s No. 1 tailback.
He is an energetic kid, certainly the most energetic on Tech’s team, and maybe one of the least jaded 20-year-old young men you will ever meet.
He played sparingly as a true freshman in 2009 (59 carries), and 10 games into that season, the lack of playing time frustrated him so much that he choked up when talking about it during an interview.
“I just miss the contact,” he said. “I miss breaking tackles.”
Tech’s running backs coach at the time, Billy Hite, understood Wilson’s frustration.
“David’s time is going come,” he said. “He’s got to be patient. Sometimes you’ve got to wait your turn.”
Wilson’s time is here.
He almost doubled his carries last year, when he had 113 and saw more action because Ryan Williams went down midway through the third game with a hamstring injury and didn’t return until the eighth game. And even though Wilson has never been Tech’s every-down back, he has averaged an impressive 5.5 yards per carry to this point.
“Going out there [against Appalachian State], I just want to make a big impact and a big impression on the fans and myself and my team, to get this whole season off on the right foot and get everything started,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and we haven’t won a game opening the year [lost to Alabama in 2009, Boise State in 2010]. The year before that, I don’t think they won [lost to East Carolina]. So it’s been a while since we won a game opening [last time was 2007 versus East Carolina in Blacksburg]. So I want to come out and re-establish that and start the season off on the right foot.
“Sometimes, you’re out here [in practice] and you start thinking about Saturday too early. Sometimes, you get out there on Saturday and for some people, they feel nervous. I don’t feel that. I’ll be more excited than nervous, but I feel like I’m ready. I feel like if we went out on the field right now, I’d be able to produce.”
New running backs coach Shane Beamer has talked to Wilson about patiently approaching plays and waiting for his blocks. He also has worked with Wilson on refining the details of his game, such as improving route running, which Beamer said should result in Wilson doubling his catches from last season (15).
“Learning from him the small things that he’s taught, I’ve added even smaller things that can throw a defense off,” Wilson said. “You approach a defender and you can do the smallest move and throw his whole steps off. Not even just moves, [but also] a little head fake before I leave my stance. Small stuff, and it all builds up and gets me that much closer to being great.”
Many observers believe this is the year Wilson will show he is great and head off to the NFL. After everything that happened in the past two years – the frustration as a freshman; the significant production (nine rushing touchdowns, four receiving) in limited time during those two seasons; and the pair of game-changing kickoff returns for touchdowns last year – this year, starting Saturday, is Wilson’s time to shine.
Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, the new offensive play caller, has said he plans to utilize quarterback Logan Thomas’ athleticism by calling designed runs for him. Wilson this week considered the image of the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Thomas running in the open field.
“Scary to the defense,” Wilson said. “Being that big in the open field and a small DB, I don’t know too many DBs that want to take a hit to a guy like that.”
But don’t expect to see a shifty running style similar to Tyrod Taylor’s.
“When [Thomas] runs, it’s kind of funny because he takes long, like, hop steps,” Wilson said. “So it’s nothing real flashy and quick. It’s just him moving.”
If you think back to Tech’s 2009 recruiting class, Wilson and Thomas were the two highest-rated recruits. Wilson was No. 40 overall by Rivals, Thomas No. 71. The third-highest rated? That would be cornerback Jayron Hosley at No. 139. He was an All-American last season.