Razorback Commit Grayson Wilson Swims Upstream Against Recent Top In-State QBs

Grayson Wilson
photo credit: Tommy Land

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas quarterback commit Grayson Wilson was at the center of one of the best turnarounds statewide last season, helping Central Arkansas Christian make a deep playoff run following back-to-back frustrating seasons.

Not only did CAC finish 9-3, but it claimed the 4A-4 conference championship outright and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs – the first time the program has accomplished either feat in nearly a decade – all while averaging nearly 50 points per contest.

A key to that success was the improvement Wilson made from his sophomore to junior year.

The strides made by the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback even led to him recently being bumped up to four-star status on Rivals, which also ranks him as the fifth-best dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

With a rocket for an arm that coaches and onlookers have raved about since he was in seventh grade, Wilson is also very underrated in using his legs to extend plays – a skill he believes he developed while playing running back as a third grader.

The Razorback commit has continued to increase his stock on a national level and was selected to play in the All-American Bowl next January. The prestigious game annually features 100 of the nation’s top senior high school football players and they are selected about a year prior to the game based on their performance in the All-American Bowl Combine. Wilson was tabbed as the Most Outstanding Quarterback during December’s combine and received praise from well-known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

“Grayson is a strong-armed and very athletic signal caller,” Lemming said in a post on Twitter. “He can run and shows pinpoint accuracy.”

Additionally, Wilson received a regional invite to compete in the 2024 Elite 11 competition, a nationally known event that has featured the best-of-the-best signal callers for over a quarter of a century. 

The gridiron is far from the only area that Wilson excels. It would not be an over exaggeration to claim he is building a case as a decorated multi-sport athlete that could one day put him in the same conversation as Arkansas prep greats Don Kessinger, Don Hutson and Clyde Scott, to name a few.

Wilson is additionally an all-state performer in both basketball and baseball, the latter of which he also had an option to play at the highest level. As if athletics did not demand enough of his efforts, Wilson also carves out the time to maintain a perfect grade-point average. 

Playing for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas

Seventeen years before Grayson Wilson, another in-state quarterback with the same last name was receiving similar hype.

Tyler Wilson, a 2008 Greenwood alumnus unrelated to Grayson, flipped his commitment from Tulsa to Arkansas and finished his career at, or near, the top of multiple school records despite being a full-time starter for only two seasons.

Those records were broken under the direction of Bobby Petrino, who was the Arkansas football head coach from 2008-11 and, coincidentally, is now Wilson’s primary recruiter as the Razorbacks’ new offensive coordinator.

As expected, Wilson has already had multiple conversations with Petrino about what he’ll be able to bring to the Hogs’ offense. It goes without saying that Petrino is enamored with Wilson’s arm, but also what he can do in the ground game.

“He liked my competitive spirit, but one of the first things he said after he watched my film was, ‘This dude does not slide,’” Wilson told Best of Arkansas Sports. “And, of course, being able to throw as well as run.”

Previously known for giving defensive coordinators nightmares with pocket passers, that all changed when Petrino had Lamar Jackson at Louisville. Jackson won the 2016 Heisman Trophy before being selected 32nd overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

“Just watching the film of Lamar, he is still making crazy throws in the pocket,” Wilson said. “Not to speak for Coach Petrino, but he has shown that he believes running is a great attribute and a great secondary trait.”  

CAC athletic director Hayden Cruce, who will coach Wilson in baseball this spring for the Mustangs, pointed out a quality that is a must in a Petrino-based offense. 

“It sounds cliche, but Grayson just handles his business,” Cruce said. “Whether it is in the classroom, on the court, off the field – whatever he needs to do, he gets it done the right way and with a very mature approach.” 

You also must have thick skin and a will to work tirelessly, so that maturity Wilson has already displayed will loom large playing under one of the most brilliant – but demanding – offensive minds in college football. 

Busy Offseason Leads to Turnaround Year

Bret Bielema and Barry Lunney actually extended the first offer to Grayson Wilson, doing so on behalf of Illinois. An offer from Central Arkansas came about a month later. Both of those happened prior to his sophomore season.

His next two came in March 2023 – first from the home state Razorbacks on March 4, followed by Pitt on March 9. Two weeks after visiting Fayetteville in early April, Wilson’s decision was clear, as he became the first pledge in the 2025 class for Arkansas football. 

“I have always lived (in Arkansas), and it has always been a dream of mine,” Wilson told SBlive last August. “After going up there and talking to the coaches, seeing the people, it really just became clear.” 

Wilson is the first top-rated in-state quarterback to commit to Arkansas since 2021, when Little Rock Parkview’s Landon Rogers did so. However, he ended up playing tight end and wide receiver for the Razorbacks before transferring to UNLV.

In 2018, Gerry Bohanon initially enrolled at Baylor when he graduated from Earle. Bohanon played four years for the Bears before transferring to South Florida, where he spent the previous two seasons. He has one season of eligibility remaining, which will be spent at BYU. 

Two years after Bohannon, Morrilton’s Jacolby Criswell opted to sign with North Carolina before deciding to come back home and join the Razorbacks prior to last season. Most recently, Little Rock Christian’s Walker White gave his pledge to Auburn in February 2023 and never wavered. He enrolled for the spring semester and will go through spring practice with the Tigers.    

To those close to Wilson’s camp, including his youth football coach, it was no surprise he went ahead and made his decision early.

A 1984 graduate of CAC, Danny Sullivan played for the Mustangs during his prep career and came back to teach and coach on Mustang Mountain after college. He has worked in some capacity with the school for more than three decades and was the head football coach from 1996-2000. His son, Renalson, is a classmate of Wilson’s and the starting running back for the Mustangs.

Sullivan mentored Wilson in some of his earliest days, starting in sixth grade when his arm was really beginning to blossom.

“It was pretty much like, ‘Hey, if Arkansas is offering, then you need to take it,’” Sullivan said. “If that is what you want, just take it and end all of this.”

Grayson Wilson Gifted from the Start 

Grayson Wilson gives a lot of credit to Danny Sullivan for helping hone his game early on. 

“He was the one who gave me the mentality of winning and the want to,” Wilson said. “In seventh grade we got into more of the spread offense and I think just throwing the ball and getting coached up helped me a lot. Seventh grade was really when everyone found their position. We were good and we could do different things.”

Likewise, Sullivan praised Wilson for providing CAC the opportunity to run an offense that was well ahead of the opposition. 

“We were able to do things then with him that I remember thinking that it’s just sixth grade – we are going to do this, this and this, but as the season went on we knew we could do things that not even junior high teams do.

“We are running bootlegs and giving him the option to run or throw and he was reading it. It was not big stuff, maybe reading the flats, or we would line up and he’d check it knowing he would throw a quick screen.”

Once everyone settled into their spots, it was virtually impossible to even slow down the offensive attack, let alone stop it. Wison’s class ended up reeling off three undefeated seasons in four years from sixth through ninth grade and, as Sullvian recalls, many of those victories were in dominating fashion. 

“They wrecked shop,” Sullivan said. “We just pounded people. We had good linemen and kids that could catch, but Grayson could sling it.”

Fast forward two years later, Sullivan – as well as many others – knew the potential was not a fluke.

“By ninth grade it was evident that he was going to be D-I,” Sullivan continued. “He had grown, gone to some camps, his throwing motion was better and he could run the read option. We were throwing deep skinny posts and fade routes. Man, we threw so many fade routes.”

All of those proven results gave CAC’s varsity coaches no choice but to move Wilson up.

Enduring a Tough Stretch

After completing an undefeated run with the CAC junior high squad as a freshman in 2021, Grayson Wilson started the final two games for the varsity squad.

While that season was the first of back-to-back struggling campaigns, Wilson shined in a loss to Bald Knob. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 238 yards and two scores, while adding another on the ground. Wilson followed that up with a four-touchdown performance in the season finale loss to Stuttgart.

Tommy Shoemaker was Wilson’s head coach at that time. He led the Mustangs for 15 seasons and has crafted many high-flying offenses, even winning a 2A state championship with Harding Academy in 2002, but Wilson beats just about any signal caller he has mentored. 

“Grayson is the most talented passer that I have coached in my 25 years as head coach,” Shoemaker told SBLive in August 2022. “He can make any throw and has tremendous touch.”

In 2022, Shoemaker’s final season and Wilson’s sophomore year, CAC struggled to its second consecutive 2-8 season. On the year, Wilson completed 147 of 251 passes for 1,778 yards and 19 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, plus added 530 yards and 7 touchdowns on 84 carries. 

Seeing the Positive in Change

Tommy Shoemaker resigned in December 2022 and Ryan Howard was hired as the Mustangs’ head coach the following month. A former quarterback at Central Arkansas, Howard worked as an assistant coach in the Division I ranks for eight years at both UCA and Missouri.

Grayson Wilson was nothing short of extraordinary running Howard’s offense, a unit that reached or surpassed 50 points seven times in 12 games and compiled more than 5,200 yards of offense with 71 scores. Essentially all of Wilson’s wide receivers were sophomores, four of whom surpassed 500 yards receiving.

On the year, Wilson completed 66% of his passes for 3,413 yards and 41 touchdowns to only two interceptions, both via tipped balls. He also rushed for 837 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging a whopping 9.6 yards per carry.

“On Mondays and Tuesdays during lunch, we would break down who we were going against and knowing their tendencies,” Wilson said. “On the sidelines before the game, and even after the first drive, (Howard) would tell me what I need to know about certain coverages and what plays we would call out of that.”

That production helped CAC go 9-3 and achieve both the program’s first outright conference championship and quarterfinal playoff appearance since 2015.

Coaching is essentially a revolving door of sorts and Wilson has seen plenty of movement before even completing his prep career. Indeed, he will play for his third head football coach in as many seasons next fall. 

Howard resigned from his position at CAC on Jan. 10 “to pursue other opportunities,” leaving behind many questions. 

Wilson may not don the white Razorback on his helmet just yet, but he has already endured change with his future team. Following a miserable 2-6 start in which Arkansas’ offense mightily struggled, offensive coordinator Dan Enos was given the boot after yet another poor showing in a 7-3 home loss to Mississippi State. Enos, who was in the first year of his second stint with the Hogs, was Wilson’s primary recruiter. 

While Wilson has already formed a great relationship with new OC Bobby Petrino, he has taken many positives out of what many would consider an unfortunate situation. 

“Although it is hard (going through changes), there are a lot of things that are going to be hard,” Wilson said. “I have been able to get input from what will be three different high school coaches and everyone has their own way of doing things. I see their way and I take the best of what everyone is good at and put it all together.”

JD Plumlee was announced as CAC’s new head coach on Jan. 24 following a five-year stint at Malvern. Plumlee led the Leopards to the Class 4A state championship in 2022 and also was the offensive coordinator for Russellville’s 2016 team that won the 6A state title. 

Naturally, Wilson and Plumlee have discussed plans for next year. 

“In the first meeting, he just laid the groundwork of what he expects as a coach,” Wilson said. “I think a lot of our guys are willing to work for and with him. He really likes what we did last year, so I think we will do some of that and some stuff he brings in, too.

“I showed him some deep choice concepts from some of the things we did last year spreading the field with the guys we have. We discussed different ways for receivers to run routes, get guys in space and spread the field, along with ways to get defenses in binds.”

The Path to Arkansas Football

The hype around Grayson Wilson at a young age was not exclusive to football. While he has been a three-sport athlete most of his life, his future could have been on the diamond if he had chosen that route.

The decision Wilson made was almost the exact opposite of another high-profile multi-sport athlete to come through CAC around two decades earlier. 

Andrew Davie put his college career on hold after he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 32nd round of the 2001 MLB Draft after initially signing to play football for the Razorbacks. After four years of playing in the minor leagues, Davie returned to football and enrolled at Arkansas, where he played from 2005-08. He played tight end first under Houston Nutt, then Petrino in the latter’s first season as head coach.

Davie was coached by Danny Sullivan, who has seen every premier athlete to come through CAC, including A.J. Burnett (‘95), D.J. Williams (‘07), Joe Adams (‘08) and Christyn Williams (‘18). They all share the same characteristics as Wilson.

“They want to win and they will do whatever it takes,” Sullivan said. “You could tell in the big games, those kinds of athletes just have another level.” 

Everything worked out in the end for Davie, who hauled in six touchdowns during his football career with the Razorbacks. Likewise, Wilson is confident in his decision. 

“Football has always been my passion and just over time I realized it was my favorite,” Wilson said.

Grayson Wilson: A True Student-Athlete

Of all Grayson Wilson has accomplished, it would be tough to argue that what he does in the classroom speaks louder volumes than any. He maintains a 4.0 GPA while taking AP courses, and especially enjoys science and history. 

Now, though, he’s looking to make some history of his own in multiple sports. This past weekend, Wilson made the game-winning shot in the semifinals of Arkansas’ high school state basketball tournament to put the CAC in its first state title game ever on the male side. After basketball he’s ready to swing back into baseball, where the Mustangs made a semifinal run last season in the 3A baseball tournament.

On the football field, Wilson hopes to build on the Mustangs’ run to the 4A quarterfinals and end his career with a state championship while eclipsing 4,500 total yards and 60 total touchdowns. 

After that, the platform gets a whole lot bigger. Wilson plans to arrive in Fayetteville next January after to graduating high school early so he can enroll at Arkansas for the 2025 spring semester.

“I am hoping to start as soon as possible and I am willing to work for it,” Wilson said. “I also want to give back to my school, coaches and people who helped me get to that point.”


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