UPDATED 2:26 P.M. WITH MORE FROM SHANE BEAMER
Virginia Tech running back David Wilson has decided his NFL dreams can’t wait any longer. The ACC player of the year announced Friday morning he will forgo his final year of eligibility and declare for this spring’s NFL draft.
“This is something I really wanted to do. It’s been my goal since I was 8,” Wilson said. “Just to be that close to it and accomplish something you worked so hard for every day, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Accompanied by his mother and father, as well as Coach Frank Beamer, running backs coach Shane Beamer, former associate head coach Billy Hite and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring at a news conference on campus, Wilson made the announcement in his typically unique style. Wearing a black-and-grey suede suit, he read a prepared statement off his iPad and even mentioned his notorious off-field stunts like chasing down a rabbit and climbing the pillars that surround Cassell Coliseum
Wilson said he made his final decision this week after the NFL’s draft advisory board told him he projected as a second-round pick.
“It was very tough,” he said. “Even yesterday writing the statement, I almost teared up just thinking about the Sugar Bowl is my last game at Virginia Tech.”
Wilson set a new school record in his first season as Virginia Tech’s featured tailback, gaining 1,709 rushing yards. He also became the only athlete in school history to earn all-American status in both football and track and field. Last spring, he finished sixth in the country in the triple jump at the NCAA championships and followed that up by earning second-team all-American honors from the Associated Press after this football season.
Many of Wilson’s track and field teammates showed up for his news conference to wish him well, and assistant tack coach Charles Foster even chimed in, “You became an all-American with us before you became an all-American with them.” But Wilson’s decision didn’t catch the Hokies’ football coaches by surprise.
“I knew with this season going as it has gone and knowing that this is a driven man, this is a goal-oriented man, and will not stop until those goals are met,” said offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who recruited Wilson to Virginia Tech from Danville, Va. “I know the next goal on his list was to make it to the NFL. So with that being said, I had a pretty good idea of what he was going to do.”
Wilson is the second player Virginia Tech has lost early to the NFL draft since Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan. Cornerback Jayron Hosley said after the game he is also forgoing his senior season to pursue a professional career.
Wilson’s track background should help him at next month’s NFL scouting combine, where he hopes to bolster his draft stock. Alabama’s Trent Richardson, who has yet to officially declare for the draft, and Miami’s Lamar Miller are considered Wilson’s top competition among running backs in this year’s field.
“I definitely feel like I can move up and be a first-round draft pick,” Wilson said. “That’s just the drive in me to always be better than what people assume.”
Wilson’s departure leaves a big hole in the Hokies’ backfield next year. Shane Beamer said after Wilson’s news conference that he’s not opposed to having a true freshman start, and he confirmed that top tailback recruit J.C. Coleman has already decided to enroll at Virginia Tech next semester so he can participate in spring practice.
Beamer indicated that junior Tony Gregory, who underwent his second ACL surgery in as many seasons this week, and freshman Michael Holmes will also be given serious consideration for the job. In addition, the Hokies have verbal commitments from Philadelphia area running back Drew Harris and tailback Chris Mangus from North Carolina.
“It’s not like the NFL where you can go buy one off the street. You’ve got to coach them now and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Shane Beamer said. “We’ll see what kind of coach I am next year.”
Here are Beamer’s complete thoughts on several of the candidates who will battle to replace Wilson in the backfield next year. Although keep in mind that Beamer is not allowed to comment specifically on Harris and Mangus since neither have signed their national letter-of-intent yet.
On Coleman, who is listed at just 5 feet 8, 175 pounds: “He’s a high energy, enthusiastic guy like David. . . . If you’re gonna play a freshman, having an opportunity to go through spring practice is a huge advantage instead of coming in in August and going through three-and-a-half weeks of practice and being asked to play. The running part of it is easy. It’s the protection and the pass routes stuff that is hard for guys to learn. J.C. will have a great head start to put him in a position to play next year. . . . J.C.’s size hasn’t been a liability, won’t be a liability. There’s a lot of great smaller running backs here over the years and we think he’s going to be a great one as well.”
On Gregory: “I can’t say enough good things about Tony Gregory. He played the last month of the season on a torn ACL and this football program is important to him and football is important to him and I’m excited about seeing him once he gets healthy and what he can bring to the table.
On Holmes, and the situation overall: “Michael Holmes has a strong, strong desire to be great, and if it’s one of these freshmen coming in, it’s one of these freshmen coming in as well. We’ll get the best guy out there. The good thing about it is we’ve got such a tradition of running back play here, you can get great players here. They know the opportunity, and in recruiting this year, they knew that this was a possibility, that David might be leaving. ”