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Road to the Draft: Josh Wilson

Long before he became a star and an NFL prospect at Maryland, the fleet cornerback learned a life-altering lesson from his father, former NFL running back Tim Wilson

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In addition to excelling on defense, Maryland CB Josh Wilson played extensively on special teams, including as a return man during his senior year

(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Currently featured: Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson.)

Josh Wilson's father, former Houston Oilers running back Tim Wilson, died of a heart attack in 1996, when Josh was just 11.

Such a tragic loss can teach a boy the importance of living each day to the fullest, but young Josh didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way. Before he passed, Tim Wilson ingrained that approach in his son.

"One of things that I've picked up from him was to take every opportunity and make the most of it," said the younger Wilson, who is about to follow his father's footsteps into the NFL. "For him to say that to me, I'm sure that's the motto he lived by. To this day, that's still one of the best things anyone ever told me."

The elder Wilson got one of his first opportunities to preach that lesson when his son wanted to emulate him in youth football. Josh was installed at defensive tackle, but he wanted to play running back, like dad. For what probably seemed like an eternity to a young boy, the team's coach refused Josh's request. Wilson's father counseled patience and, more importantly, readiness.

"He said, 'There's only one opportunity, and when you get that one opportunity you've got to take it,'" recalled Josh Wilson. "I got that one opportunity and I scored five or six touchdowns on the starting defense. From then on, I was the starting tailback and defensive tackle. Ever since that day, I've taken every opportunity in every day of life."

On game day, that has translated into a joie de vivre that has occasionally included a dose of trash-talking but also produces an all-out approach to every snap. Though he's not big for the position – he measured in at 5-9 and 189 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February – Wilson took a linebackers approach to playing cornerback at the University of Maryland, his father's alma mater. Scouting reports reference his big hits in both their positive and negative categories – good: he delivers some seriously blows on receivers and running backs alike; bad: he tends to take a beating in the process and can sometimes fail to wrap up while trying to knock out.

Still, teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who ask their corners to do more in run support than do most schemes, have to appreciate Wilson's willingness to play to contact. Wilson says that is just a natural by-product of how he approaches both life and the game of football, even on the practice field.

"You can ask anybody who has watched me – I always go hard in practice," he claimed. "I'm just as competitive in practice as I am in a game because you never know what play is going to be your final play, and what play is going to be the one that makes your team want you out there. You've just got to take every moment as if it's your last."

Of course, Wilson wouldn't be considered one of the top 10 cornerbacks available in this year's draft if he was nothing more than a willing but undersized tackler. He's also terrifically fast – his 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the Combine was tied for sixth-fastest among defensive backs and is well above the 4.25 he claims as his personal best – and is also "functionally fast," the tag scouts give to players who are more than just track stars in pads. He's an instinctive player, he'll leap and fight for the football against larger players and he was very productive at Maryland.

Wilson can help a team right away, too, in that he has extensive special teams experience and is eager to continue in that capacity. Already a fixture on the Terrapins' cover units, he took over the team's kickoff return duties as a senior and averaged 27.3 yards on 31 runbacks, including a 100-yard touchdown jaunt.

"That's a big thing that I bring to the table," said Wilson. "Since I've been at the University of Maryland, I've played on every special team, started almost three, four years on every special team. That helps a lot, when you bring in somebody who does a lot of different things. It helps out my stock."

Wilson said that his academic success also won him points at the Combine during the all-important face-to-face interviews with team officials. Not only did he graduate from Maryland in December with a degree in marketing, he was also a two-time academic all-conference choice. In fact, he capped his Terps career by picking up the ACC's Jack Tatum award, given annually to the league's top football student-athlete.

All of which, of course, is another example of Wilson's determination to seize his opportunities. The manner in which he has done so in his 22 years thus far has impressed many people, including another former hard-nosed Houston Oilers running back whose name you may recognize.

Yes, Earl Campbell is a Josh Wilson fan. Tim Wilson served as Campbell's lead blocker for years – obviously quite successfully – and the NFL legend has long followed the younger Wilson's exploits. During a recent phone call between the two, Wilson marveled at Campbell's interest in his career.

"I said, 'You're in the Hall of Fame and you've got a Heisman Trophy; why are you all excited about reading some articles about some kid from Maryland," said Wilson. "He said, 'I've just known you for so long, and this is just a miracle. I never thought I'd have the chance to see you grow up to be the player you are.' I know he's proud of me."

As would be his father. Wilson appears to be carrying on the family legacy just as his father would have wanted it, and that's sure to help him find success in the NFL.

"From what I was told he wasn't the starter but he had a big heart," said Josh of his father. "The thing that I was told about my dad – it's just what I heard; I wasn't able to see him play – was that he always did what he was supposed to do. He always made sure he got the job done, and he did whatever it took to get on the field."

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