Virginia Tech Freshman Running Back David Wilson Is Impressive On and Off the Field

Freshman running back David Wilson rushes against Marshall. Wilson ran for a game-high 165 yards against the Thundering Herd.
Freshman running back David Wilson rushes against Marshall. Wilson ran for a game-high 165 yards against the Thundering Herd. (By Dave Knachel -- Virginia Tech)
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By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 15 -- David Wilson could barely contain himself on Saturday, whistling and snapping his fingers in anticipation of his first carry as a collegiate running back. Others at Virginia Tech were just as eager for his debut.

Wilson, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last season, is gifted with special athleticism; he is 5 feet 10, can perform a back flip on command and run a 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. Coaches have likened him to former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and former Florida standout Percy Harvin. Wilson is also mature beyond his years; he wears a shirt and tie to classes and has done mission trips to areas devastated by natural disasters. Local reporters have joked that he could become the Hokies' version of Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida.

"I'm just another kid that's good at football," Wilson said this week as No. 13 Virginia Tech (1-1) prepares to host No. 19 Nebraska (2-0) on Saturday. "I've got problems like anybody else. I just want to be successful like anybody else."

Successful was an appropriate adjective for Wilson's performance in Virginia Tech's 52-10 win over Marshall on Saturday. He had a game-high 165 rushing yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown in his first significant action. He broke runs of 51, 36 and 31 yards, although his impressive numbers came against a Marshall defense that was far from exceptional. But Wilson also missed a block that led to a sack, and coaches have said he still needs to improve in protection.

Coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw from Wilson, simply saying, "I think he's going to give us a lot of highlights here before his time is done."

For all his atypical ability on the field, Wilson has stood out just as much off of it.

Before his senior year at George Washington High School in Danville, Va., he told his mother, Sheila, he would start dressing up because he said he had "become a man now." He wore a shirt and tie with slacks each day, and has continued to do so at Virginia Tech.

"They don't come any better than David Wilson," Christopher A. Carter, George Washington's principal, said in a telephone interview. "He's a very special kid."

During his breaks, Wilson traveled to impoverished areas of Mississippi and South Carolina to build and repair homes, including some ruined by Hurricane Katrina. He arrived to the job sites each morning by 8, dug foundations, built walls and finished in the late evening.

Asked about his service projects, Wilson said he was blessed with talents and "to whom much is given, much is required."

Wilson taught himself to do the back flips at age 4 by watching gymnasts on television. He built muscle at an early age by laying bricks and lugging 2-by-4s with his father, Dwight, an elementary school teacher who also purchases and renovates condemned houses.

As a high school senior, Wilson rushed for 35 touchdowns. He also starred in track, winning the triple jump at the Nike Indoor Nationals during his junior and senior years.

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