September 9, 2013 11:49:17 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University freshman wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson feels like a football player.
That may sound like a strange sentiment from a scholarship athlete on a Southeastern Conference football roster, but Wilson said there still are days like Saturday when he "feels like a basketball player in football pads."
Even though the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder from Birmingham, Ala., is still learning how to play football, he continues to make progress. Wilson had two catches for 31 yards Saturday in MSU's 51-7 victory against Alcorn State University at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I know basketball season for me doesn't start until this ends, but I'm still learning every day," Wilson said. "What people need to understand is I know the playbook, but it's the speed of the game and understanding the little things of my position I'm still very new at."
MSU coaches moved Wilson from a potential redshirt into the express lane, giving him a chance to challenge for one of the three wide receiver slots in the spread-option offense.
"He just hasn't played a lot of football, so we've had to fast-track his learning and development," MSU coach Dan Mullen said Sunday in his weekly teleconference. "With any of our freshmen, we're going to put a lot on them at camp, and right now he's adapted to everything we've put on him."
Wilson, who also had two catches in a season-opening loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State University, has been a target for Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott for jump balls over the middle.
"I have the greatest coaches in the world because think about it, if they can turn a basketball player like myself into a big-time college football player at the highest level of competition, what can't they do?" Wilson said.
Wilson was a fast-rising, yet unknown prospect out of Wenonah High School in 2012 when he returned to the football field after a two-year absence. In that season, he emerged as one of the state of Alabama's leading receivers and the state's 16th-ranked prospect. Scout.com rated him the 81st wide receiver nationally. That ranking is even more impressive when you consider Wilson averaged double figures in scoring and rebounding as a senior on the Wenonah High boys basketball team. He turned down Division I basketball scholarship offers from Auburn University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Murray State University.
"I know he felt more comfortable with (Mississippi State) than with anybody else he'd talked to during the whole process," Wenonah High boys basketball coach Cedric Lane said. "With MSU losing so much on the receiver side and needing help in both sports as soon as possible, it was a perfect fit."
Lane was one of the first people Wilson called to tell he'd be getting significant playing time against OSU in the Texas Kickoff Classic in Houston, Texas. Wilson had two catches for 17 yards in his debut on national television,
"I think De'Runnya played better Saturday than he even did in his opener," Mullen said. "As coaches, that's the first thing we like seeing from young players and freshmen is do they learn and take another step from game to game. He did that against Alcorn State."
Wilson, who has been watched by MSU men's basketball coach Rick Ray at football practice, still intends to try to play for Ray as a preferred walk-on when the football season ends. Wilson, a scholarship member of the football program, said he hasn't had any problem regarding his goal to play both sports at MSU.
"They haven't told me I can't (play basketball), and it's something I came here to do," Wilson said. "I think I can help the program there, too, and to me it's just all about hard work and dedication to the team."
Wilson's ability to catch everything thrown his way despite not knowing the playbook impressed MSU's coaches in early August. Wilson's size and athletic gifts have helped him simulate one-on-one basketball situations against defensive backs when the ball is in the air.
"He has a lot things left to still learn like being on top of the speed of the game," Mullen said. "He's got to sure up his assignments, but the great thing about him is given the opportunity to make a play, he has made them. We saw that in camp. This is a young guy that has the ability, but we just have to get him the consistency to make those plays."
Nicknamed "Bear," Wilson has made a name for himself with team veterans, including quarterback Tyler Russell. When your fifth-year senior quarterback knows you by name, it likely means you'll make a early impact.
"He just always seems to come down with the football and make plays when the ball is thrown in his direction," Russell said. "I don't have to lay it on him with the perfect throw. He just goes up and gets it, and that's the best attribute a wide receiver can have."
Wilson said he didn't know if he'd make the travel roster for the game against OSU until position coach Billy Gonzalez informed him later in that week. The news helped Wilson go from an unknown commodity apparently destined to redshirt to an instant contributor in Starkville.
"We just seemed to have so many receivers in fall camp go down with injuries that I looked around one day and thought, 'Man, this is my opportunity if I want to play now', and I just continued to work hard," Wilson said. "Hard work and dedication should pay off eventually, no matter who you are. I can promise this coaching staff I may not do everything right all the time, but I'll work hard every day I'm out there. That I can guarantee."