North Texas Daily

Wilson aims to help Mean Green through leadership and another big season

Wilson aims to help Mean Green through leadership and another big season

September 05
17:30 2017

As a sea of green uniforms jogged into the locker room prior to kickoff of North Texas’ opening game of the season, a lone man trailed the pack – senior running back Jeffery Wilson.

With beads of sweat from the pregame workouts rolling off his body and falling onto the turf, Wilson trotted over to the goal post on the far side of the field and took a knee, closed his eyes and rested his head on his hand.

There, he said a quick prayer. He did so again on the 50-yard line, still as the only player left on the field. He completed his routine with one last prayer on the goal post closest to the home locker room.

Wilson began his trek back to the locker room to rejoin his teammates, but not before stopping at the bronze eagle, turning around to warn both end zones.

“I’ll be back,” Wilson said.

The No. 9 leading rusher in North Texas history learned the routine from his father, Jeffery Wilson Sr.

After being born in Palestine, Texas and eventually moving to Elkhart at a young age, Wilson grew accustomed to the small town life he was surrounded by throughout his adolescence.

According to the 2010 census, Elkhart has a population of 1,371. Elkhart High School is classified as 3A by the University Interscholastic League with 369 students and was a place that felt right at home to Wilson – especially on Friday nights.

“It’s really kind of cool,” Wilson said. “You come out at the game and you know everybody in the stands, all the families, you know people coming from the nearby towns. It’s a town where it gives you a lot of glory, but you have to be humble and the humbleness translated over to college for me.”

In two seasons at Elkhart, Wilson posted an eye-popping 5,078 yards and 59 touchdowns. The video game-like numbers gave Wilson a few choices at the college level, and he ended up with four offers on the table.

Former North Texas coach Dan McCarney and his staff were able to seal the deal in the recruiting process.

While Elkhart’s status as a small school may have left some athletes uneasy about a lack of exposure to college coaches, Wilson’s father helped shape his career from the very beginning.

“Like my dad always told me, you put up the numbers and they’ll come find you,” Wilson said. “I stuck by that through high school and now I’m here at North Texas.”

He was right.

In Wilson’s time at North Texas, he’s been one of the most accomplished running backs to come through the program’s doors. Just one game into his final season, the senior has cracked the top 10 in both touchdowns and yards.

But entering this year, there was some concern as Wilson was coming off his third consecutive season where he missed two or more games due to injury.

To combat those issues, Wilson said he worked through the offseason like never before. Head coach Seth Littrell was quick to point out the change in his physique.

“He’s done a good job in the weight room getting bigger and stronger,” Littrell said. “He’s got more explosion and he’ll be more durable. I think he’s a whole new man this year.”

Beyond Wilson’s improvement on the field, his leadership outside the white lines has grown as well.

After every practice, Wilson talks to everyone he sees and does so with an aura of energy that is infectious to those around him. He had a similar personality last season, but Littrell said his star player is more focused on trying to bring others up to speed and be the senior leader the offense needs.

“He’s done a great job in understanding what he needs to improve on, not only to be a good leader but a great teammate,” Littrell said. “He has a lot of influence in the locker room and he has to use it in a positive way. He’s gotten much better as he grows [at doing that].”

The heir apparent to Wilson’s throne in the Mean Green backfield is redshirt freshman Nic Smith, who has been one of the primary recipients of Wilson’s increased leadership role.

As Smith has emerged as one of the primary backups to Wilson, he continues to rave about the senior’s impact on the growth of a younger stable of running backs.

“For me coming in, redshirting my freshman year, he was the one who gave me the most support,” Smith said. “He’s one of the guys that I really leaned on for support. He’s a great guy, he’s one of my mentors but he’s more like an older brother.”

Being a real leader is an arduous task, but it’s one Wilson has taken and ran with in similar fashion to one of his 385 carries for the Mean Green.

“I would like to say my role is a leader,” Wilson said. “That’s something I’ve worked for and I want to give the [younger guys] the tools they need to be as great as they can possibly be.”

Wilson’s role as a leader and a star running back is put on display in front of a crowd at Apogee typically hovering almost 20 times greater than the population of his hometown in Elkhart.

Like the other changes he’s recently made to his game, getting used to the spotlight was a big adjustment at first. But now it feels like home for the former small town star who’s in his final season at North Texas.

“This is a memory that I’ll have for life,” Wilson said. “Obviously, this is my last year, so I want it to be the best one.”

Featured Image: North Texas senior running back Jeffery Wilson (3) stiff arms his way past a defender to rack up extra yards against Lamar University | Nathan Roberts

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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