Dec. 20, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
Cornerback CJ Wilson did not realize that he would be playing many more games in the stadium where he won the 2007 North Carolina high school football state championship. That stadium was Carter-Finley, home of the Wolfpack.
The Lincolnton, N.C., native received several offers from FCS schools, but longed for that scholarship offer from a Division I program. That’s when the NC State coaching staff contacted Wilson to offer him a scholarship and a chance to play for the Wolfpack.
“NC State was the only offer I received from a Division I football program and I didn’t receive the offer until late in the recruiting process,” Wilson said. “Once I got here I wanted to make a name for myself and work hard to prove that I belonged at a Division I football program.”
In high school, Wilson played primarily on the offensive side of the ball, but began playing cornerback as well during his senior season. He was recruited by many schools, as a running back or wide receiver, but the coaching staff at NC State decided he would be a better fit at the defensive back position.
“My first three years of high school, all I played was running back,” said Wilson. “Then my senior year my coaches told me to go on defense and make sure that the guy I was covering didn’t catch the ball. It was new to me at the time, but I figured how hard could it be to keep somebody from catching the ball.”
Once he arrived on campus, Wilson really started to learn the intricacies of playing the cornerback position and quickly realized that there was a lot more to the position than just making sure the receiver did not catch a pass. He redshirted during his freshman season and started to develop the technique and mental capacity needed to be successful at the Division I level.
As a redshirt sophomore, the Pack corner played in all 12 games, including four starts, two at the boundary corner and two at the field corner. Wilson really started to turn heads with his play during his redshirt sophomore year. He became the first Wolfpack player since 1966 to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same season when he picked off passes against Central Florida and Boston College.
“Playing cornerback is all about anticipation and taking chances,” Wilson said. “You just hope that when you do take a chance that you guess right and are able to come up with a big play for your team.”
Wilson says that he remembers his running back days in high school after he catches the interception and uses his athletic ability to make opponents miss. His previous experience at the running back position, combined with his speed makes him difficult to track down once he has made the interception.
“I always wanted to score when I touched the ball in high school, so when I catch an interception I have that same mentality, “said Wilson. “Once I get near the end zone, I make up my mind that I’m going to score.”
Prior to the start of the season, Wilson recorded three career interceptions and all of them were returned for touchdowns. Most NC State fans would argue that maybe the biggest of his career was against Maryland last season when he picked off a pass and returned it 59 yards to cap off the Pack comeback.
Wilson registered his first interception of the season this year against UNC when he picked off quarterback Bryn Renner deep in the Wolfpack’s territory.
“My guy went inside of me on his route, but something said look up,” said Wilson. “When I looked up I saw the ball and just tried to knock it down. After I tipped it, I was excited about the pass-break-up and then I noticed it was coming down right to me and I had a chance to catch it.”
Not only did he make his presence felt by intercepting a pass, but he also stripped a UNC receiver after catching a pass. The pass was thrown in the area of Wilson, but he was unable to pick off the pass or break it up, so he decided he would rip the ball out of the hands of the UNC receiver.
“When he threw it I had my hand on it, so the way my body position was I knew I had a chance to strip it so I did and the ball went right into my hands,” Wilson said.
He was rewarded for his efforts in that game, being named the ACC co-Defensive Back of the week. Wilson completed the day with three tackles, an interception, forced fumble and a pass break up.
Wilson is one of just four players on the NC State football team that have already received their degrees, joining quarterback Mike Glennon, linebacker Sterling Lucas and safety Earl Wolff. He graduated in three-and-a-half years with a degree in sport management.
“It’s a blessing to be able to here to play with these guys,” said Wilson. “We came in together and have learned and developed over our time here. It feels good to still be here after overcoming some obstacles in the summer. I try to take it as another blessing to keep working hard and getting better.”
While the cornerback position seems to be one of the flashiest positions on the field, it is also one of the most challenging spots on the field. Cornerbacks are responsible for making sure that passes are not completed to the wide receiver they are covering, but are also asked to come up and make a tackle against a running back.
“It’s always a challenge because a lot of times the best athletes are at the receiver position,” Wilson explained. “They’re usually very fast and sometimes they’re fast and big. We have to keep our guy from getting into the end zone or to the first down marker, so its hard work. You have to anticipate and take chances sometimes you come up big and sometimes you get burned.”
As one of the veterans on the defensive side of the ball, Wilson acknowledges his role as a leader, but is more of a lead by example type then vocal.
“Before the games, I like to just relax and listen to any kind of music. I don’t like to talk, because I feel like if I’m talking then I’m not getting focused.”
Wilson’s focus both on the field and off helps him prepare for the matchup that will await in the coming game. His preparation helps him know when to take chances and when to play it safe, even against bigger receivers.
“I take it as a challenge every time I line up against another receiver to see where I’m at athletically,” Wilson said. “I want to guard the best receiver to see if I can hold him if I can’t then I’m going to work harder to put me in a position to be able to cover him.”
Coming from a small town outside of Charlotte, N.C., Wilson has enjoyed here experience at NC State both as a student and as an athlete.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people from very diverse backgrounds in college because that’s how the real world is.”