One of NC State's most underrated prospects in the 2008 class, C.J. Wilson is looking to make an impact for the Wolfpack this fall.
Hailing from Lincolnton (NC) High School, Wilson had a stellar high school career. As a senior he helped lead his team to victory in the 2A state championship and earned MVP honors for his performance in the game. Wilson left his mark as a tailback, breaking the Lincoln County record for career total yardage (5,919 yards), career rushing yards (3,941 yards) and career scoring (468 points).
"I mostly played offense in high school," said Wilson. "In my senior year I played some corner because we were low on numbers, but I was mostly on offense."
In limited work, Wilson excelled defensively. He recorded four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and broke up seven passes and was named Charlotte Observer Gaston/Lincoln Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite the accolades, few college scholarship offers arrived. He camped at NC State the previous summer and the Wolfpack was impressed with his athleticism but because he hadn't played defense they wanted to monitor Wilson's progress as a senior. He secured the offer in January and quickly accepted.
Because of his size and athleticism, Wilson is capable of playing all four secondary positions.
"I'm at field corner behind DeAndre [Morgan] right now, but I've played every position," said Wilson. "In the spring I was at boundary and I've played both safety spots some too.
"At first it was a rough transition to defensive back, but thanks to my teammates and coaches I'm playing really well."
He actually started out at free safety in the fall, impressing graduate assistant Bobby Blick.
“Wilson made some serious strides in making the two-deep for next year,” said Blick in the spring. “He takes his job and our team's success very seriously, and he has put forth the work in the weight room, which is why he will have an outstanding chance to see the field in 2009.”
"I feel like I have good speed and size for my position," said Wilson. "I think I'm versatile, and I try to make a lot of plays."
With the loss of Jimmaul Simmons, is there a chance Wilson could end up back at safety?
"The coaches really haven't discussed me playing safety," said Wilson. "I do what I'm told and right now I'm at field corner."
And it sounds like he's playing really well. In the Wolfpack's opening scrimmage, Wilson intercepted a pass in the endzone, beating one of the top wideouts in the ACC for the pick.
"We were in our defense, and I saw they were going to throw it deep," said Wilson. "The thing is, coach Reed does a great job of teaching us how to get in and out of our transition... how to backpedal.
"It allowed me to read the play and he threw up a jumpball. I went and got it over [Owen] Spencer. Plays like that can build your confidence. Any time a receiver goes against me I have to play the ball and do the best I can."
Wilson admits that the defensive backs get better in practice because of the wideouts they battle. NC State features a strong group of receivers, and the Pack's young defensive backs gain quality experience everyday.
"We talk about that in our meetings," said Wilson. "We play against a good group of receivers, but we don't let that affect us. If we do our job and stay on top of our game we can make plays and do what we need to do."
NC State could start the season with four freshmen in the two-deep at defensive back. With that type of inexperience they must receive great play out of a defensive line that starts four seniors.
"Our defensive line gets after it," said Wilson. "They rush the quarterback and do a good job of containing the line of scrimmage. They keep the quarterback in the pocket and make him throw the ball earlier than he wants to. It makes it easier on us. Those guys are getting after it up front."
The season opener is three weeks away and the fans aren't the only ones excited about it.
"I'm really excited," said Wilson. "I've been waiting a long time to be in this environment. I can't wait to compete against the best."