Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has devoted himself to football so long it’s easy to forget he once had to choose the path which has made him the most pivotal player in Arkansas’ typically high-powered spread offense.
Wilson, a native of Greenwood in northwest Arkansas, was introduced to multiple sports through his family. He picked up basketball from his father, Don Wilson, who’d won a national championship in 1981 playing for Westark Junior College in Fort Smith. His mother, Suzy Wilson, and grandmother, Myra Burgess, played tennis with Tyler and his younger sister Allie, who would win three tennis state titles at Greenwood High. Growing up, Wilson often threw the football with an older cousin, Brooks Coatney, who was Greenwood High’s quarterback.
Before committing to football late in high school, though, baseball mattered most. Not least because of “For Love of the Game,” which Wilson first watched around eight years old, his father recalls. The movie, which stars Kevin Costner as a veteran major league pitcher throwing a perfect game while dealing with memories of a girlfriend he doesn’t want to lose, touched the entire family. “We probably know every line to the movie,” Don Wilson says. “We’ve watched it at least 100 times.” Over time, Tyler Wilson has come to see himself in Costner’s character in various ways, he adds.
Still, Wilson doesn’t want to divulge anything about his love life to the public now. No point risking potential distractions when so much is riding on this season: finally beating powerhouse Alabama, securing Arkansas’ first SEC title, becoming Arkansas’ first Heisman Trophy winner.
This is also the fifth-year senior’s last chance to enjoy college before a likely NFL career. Wilson’s responsibilities mean free time is scarce these days, but it’s clear how he usually likes to spend it. Since he was about 12 years old, Wilson has dabbled in playing the guitar and writing lyrics. At home, he’ll jam with an uncle and cousins, but in Fayetteville he likes to play with his best friend and roommate, Don Wilson says. His wide-ranging tastes include Jack Johnson, the Eagles and country music.
Q: I know you enjoy golfing to relax. What’s your favorite course, how many holes is it and what’s the best game you have shot there?
A: “I like playing courses all across Arkansas. My lowest round was a 74 earlier this summer.”
Q: You were once a major league baseball prospect. When – if ever – do you play baseball anymore? Do you miss the game?
A: “I don’t play baseball anymore, but I really don’t miss it at all.”
Q: Last summer you told [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriter] Tom Murphy your favorite actor was Kevin Costner. That’s a fairly old-school choice. Why Costner?
A: “He is in a lot of sports movies that I like, including golf and baseball movies, and I like the way he plays those roles.”
Q: Let’s fast forward 20 years from now, after your pro career. Where do you envision yourself? What kind of work would you like to do?
A: “I would like to continue to work in sports and being competitive in business. I would like to have a house outside of Fayetteville.”
Q: You have said you want to leave your brand on Razorback football. Define your brand. How does it differ from other top college QBs?
A: “We went through a unique situation this offseason, and I was able to show leadership and commitment to our team and the University of Arkansas.”
Q: You’ve attended the Manning Passing Academy two consecutive summers. That has to be absolutely awesome experience for an ambitious quarterback like yourself. What advice or comment from one of the Mannings (Archie, Peyton or Eli) made the biggest impression on you?
A: “The way they carry themselves.”
Q: In 1926, Illinois halfback Red Grange was so popular a serious effort was made to place his name on the Republican ballot for that year’s primary election for Congress. It shows football’s extreme popularity that many fans didn’t care Grange, a 22-year-old, was three years under the constitutional age requirement. Which former or current Razorback teammate do you think is most likely to one day get into national politics?
A: “Jake Bequette because of his interest in the law and firm beliefs.”
Q: The downfall of Joe Paterno’s reputation is the biggest sports story of the year. Much has been said about the disconnect between the public perception of Paterno as a role model and his failure to do the right thing when it mattered. Of all college and pro coaches, college head football coaches likely have the most pressure on them to behave in an upstanding, moral manner. Why do you think this is the case?
A: “College football coaches are in a middle ground between mentoring kids into the next phase of their lives, but college student-athletes are adults and college football has become more of a business. The coaches have to balance all of that.”
Q: Do you think it can be a problem when the public expects a head college football coach to be more virtuous than, say, a pro coach or coach in another sport? Why or why not?
A:“That’s just part of the job.”
Q: Your hometown’s mayor named Nov. 8 “Tyler Wilson Day.” Your high school coach has written “When Paul McCartney goes back to Liverpool, he won’t get a bigger reception than when Tyler comes to Greenwood, Arkansas.” With this adulation, how do you stay grounded? Is there one particular thing – an experience, something you’ve read or heard – that you think about to stay hungry and humble?
A: “It’s easy to stay grounded because I come from a good family, and also because I have high goals that I haven’t reached yet. I stay humble while working hard toward those goals.”