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I’m getting the recorder set and he anticipates every word that comes out my mouth. I mention his height and size then he laughs as if to say don’t let your eyes lie to you. Confident, he lets me know heart has no measurables.
Juwan Wilson is the starting middle linebacker at Utica College. Brought up in Queens, New York, he was raised by his mother and father and is the youngest child of three children, older brother and sister. Wilson fell in love with football at a younger age because someone he admired played. “My father took me to go try out for soccer but they said I was too old, so went to go watch my brother at Pop Warner football practice and I wanted to be like my brother and fell in love with it,” says Wilson.
Wilson is a unique player listed at 5’10” and weighing 205 pounds. Although his frame is small for his position, Wilson recorded a team high 103 tackles which gave him his third straight season over 100 tackles making him second all-time in school history. He’s used to being mocked on the field because of his size and small stature as a linebacker but he uses that as a major chip on his shoulder. “When I first started out at Utica College, I use to have lineman laugh at me but I knew at the end of the day, you going to feel me every single play and you are going to know I’m in this game.” His instinctive reaction and pursuit coupled with his speed and range from sideline-to-sideline gives him the edge on most would be blockers. A tackling machine, he has been nicked named “Mr. 300” because of amassing over 300 tackles in his career.
“My best attributes are my ability to tackle in the open field and in between the box,” says Wilson. “Off the field, it’s the way that I break down film and how I approach the game. I break it down to how and if lineman pull, do they pull wide, do they pull tight. Running backs, how they run the ball and how they hold the ball. And receivers, the way they play the press.”
A student of the game, Wilson believes it starts off the field and it transfer to the field. One player he would like to emulate is New York Giants Safety Landon Collins. “The way he plays safety, his range, and his ability to play the run and still cover is amazing,” says Wilson. Coaches, scouts and players compare him to Karl Joseph, rookie safety for the Oakland Raiders. “They say I have that heart and spunk like [Karl] Joseph. Also we are the same size and we get to east and west.”
Wilson got a lot of support from family during his young career, especially his mother. His mother gave him an ultimatum. “My mom said you can either play football and be the person I know you can be or you can continue to be a knucklehead and do nothing with your life. I chose football,” says Wilson.
His brother also gave him sound advice that made him who is he is today. Wilson played running back in high school which was his favorite position. “My coach told me that if you want to continue playing football, you have to play another position because we have three good running backs already.” Wilson was crushed and didn’t want to play any other position. His brother convinced him to play linebacker. “He said you don’t understand, you get to hit people, you don’t have to get hit anymore,” remembers Wilson.
As great as everything was going, after not been highly recruited, taking over the starter position his sophomore year at Utica and coming off his best season in 2015 with 117 tackles in 10 games, adversity off the field took a major toll on him, particularly in 2016. “My mother passed away from cancer on January 14. She’s been to every game, we even played a game in Canada and she was there. Her passing away was the hardest thing that happened to me because I had to recollect myself and get back in my books. It was really emotional.”
Wilson remembers that one thing she always wanted him to do is graduate with a 3.0 GPA so he could stand up at his football banquet. “I promised her I would get that for her and to be able to do it was really emotional and to have my teammates to have my back for me was one of the best things in the world,” explains Wilson. “I want to believe that’s when I turned into a man.”
Wilson’s approach in life changed as he checked to see how his father was doing or called his siblings to make sure they were ok on a consistent basis. “It also changed for myself as now I don’t have mommy anymore to ask for $100, I had to juggle school with going to work and still be able to enjoy life.” Just as everything was starting to get back to normal, Wilson’s best friend, Brandon Jackson who played cornerback for the Army Black Knights, died in a car accident on September 12, 2016. “That was very hard because he is the one who told me don’t limit yourself, even at linebacker. You can play any position you put your mind to.”
After dealing with so many drastic changes in his life, Wilson was able to focus and become more of a leader for his team and it showed on and off the field. Wilson provided a pre-game speech to his teammates before the St. John Fisher Game promising that he would lead and take on their running back who was 6’2″ weighing 245 lbs who also played defensive end. “The kid was coming around and it was a stretch play and it was me and him and I put him flat on his back. That was my most memorable play,” says Wilson.
2016 shaped Wilson into what he is today. His mindset and purpose for playing now is not only self gratifying but for his family and everyone who believed in him. “My dad, to see him take charge of the family in the house by himself has really been an inspiration.” This mentality and his play has earned him an invitation to the Tropical Bowl on January 15, 2017 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona, Florida. The bowl game will feature some of the top seniors in the FBS schools particularly division I schools. “Many of my friends asked me if I’m going to be nervous playing in the Tropical Bowl. It’s nothing to be nervous about, these kids put their pads on like I put my pads on. Yeah I’m from a division III school but I know how to ball,” states Wilson.
Wilson’s goal is to make it to the NFL, and because of his journey, he accepts the fact that he might have to fight his way in. “The destination is the NFL but if the journey takes me through the Arena Football League or Canadian Football League, I will gladly take that. My true goal is to be on a NFL team.” He believes he will achieve his goal because he’s based football through life with this logic, “Football is simple, you have to have technique and have heart.”
The Topical Bowl can be heard live on The 3 Point Conversion Station https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-3-point-conversion-sports-lounge