In the midst of Howard University's turbulent season, Ronald Wilson has been more than a silver lining. The senior quarterback from Anacostia High has put aside the controversy and, without fanfare, led the Bison to 5-2-1 record and four straight victories.
Those who have seen the Bison perform this year know that Wilson is primarily responsible for assuring the embattled program of its first winning season since 1975.
"Ron has improved every game of this season," said Bison Coach Floyd Keith, who predicted his quarterback's maturation before the season started. "The team has confidence in Ron and the way he has executed our offensive game plan."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Wilson, for the fourth straight week, is leading the six-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in individual offense, with 208 yards per game -- 70 more than his nearest competitor. He also leads the conference in passing in six different catagories.
Wilson has completed 80 of 140 passes for 57 percent, 11 touchdowns and 10 completions per game. No other MEAC passer is close to those numbers. With two games left, "Waldo" has already broken the 7-year-old school record for yards passed in a season with 1,473.
"Don't make me out to be a hero," Wilson said. "I couldn't have passed or run for a single yard without my offensive line, which, I must add, has done a hell of a job this season. I could have played better at times this year, too."
But Wilson's statistics during this four-game win streak suggest that he is something of a hero. Against Hampton last week, he had 10 of 14 passes completed for 247 yards and three touchdowns; against North Carolina A&T, 12 of 19 for 233 yards; versus Virginia State, 15 of 17 for 252 yards and two touchdowns; against Delaware State on homecoming in RFK, eight of 13 for 207 yards.
"That might sound a little impressive, but statistics are for readers," Wilson said. "I'm a player."
Last year, Wilson was a part-time player. He shared the quarterbacking with senior Brian Thomas and missed much of the second half of the season with injuries. "Sharing the duties in the past distracted from my concentration," Wilson said. When the all-Met player from Southeast Washington announced four years ago he would attend Howard, many of the team's followers looked forward to a day when a local product could lead the team to the top of Division 1-AA.
But Wilson took a pounding last year from opposing defenders, and pessimists immediately argued that Wilson perhaps was not the solution to Howard's quarterback problem.But he greatly improved his strength during the off season, doubling his bench press weight, with Keith's rigorous weight training program.
"I'm willing to bet there isn't another quarterback in our conference who can bench press over 300 pounds," Keith has said.
Keith pronounced Wilson the starting quarterback over challenger Ray Gray by the second week of practice. "I really thought I'd get my shot before my senior year, but I've learned to accept situations as they are and not spend a lot of time regretting what was," Wilson said.
Despite his lack of speed, Wilson has scrambled for 200 yards. "I can scoot a little faster when I think about those 250-linemen about to unload on me," Wilson joked after running for a touchdown and three first downs earlier this season.
He has what football experts call "quick feet" -- the ability to dance around a hard pass rush and still get off a catchable pass. His right-handed release is quick and more like a snap. His ability to throw so accurately to his four sure-handed receivers has made the Bison passing game intimidating.
"The opposition knows we are capable of throwing the ball from anywhere, on any down, to anybody," says Wilson.
Wilson set three goals at the beginning of the season: to help the Bison to a winning season; to improve the passing game, which was below average last year, and to win MEAC's player of the year award at the end of the season. The first two have already been accomplished and the third within reach. "I don't think any of this could have happened without God and the support of my family," said Wilson.
"I knew once I was given the chance to play, without fear of being yanked for making a few mistakes, I could produce," said the senior, who plans to graduate in May with an economics degree before starting work or going to graduate school next fall.
As a result of Wilson's on-the-field improvement, slow-starting Howard has the second best passing game in the MEAC. Wilson's favorite target, MEAC leading receiver Tracy Singleton, has caught 40 passes for a school record 850 yards. "Waldo makes it easier because he always hits me here," Singleton said, pointing to a spot between the numbers 8 and 9 on his jersey. "Waldo plays with so much confidence that it just spreads to the rest of us."
The team's third-down completion percentage during the streak is more than 60, and even higher the last two games, since Keith has allowed Wilson to snipe away from the shotgun formation on third down and long yardage situations.
Said Bison punter and place-kicker Howard Ward: "In the past three games I've punted only three times, which shows that Waldo can convert on third down. The offense is working just like a little machine. Waldo is reading blitzes and new defensive formations very well, especially on third down."