- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Josh Wilson held court in front of his locker at Maryland’s football media day in August, garrulously musing on an array of topics and enjoying the give-and-take with reporters jostling for position in the cramped dressing room.

It was no surprise Wilson’s motormouth already was in midseason form as he assured everyone the Terrapins would not endure another losing season. As he spoke, the “Superman” hat atop his head conveyed an inescapable message to complement his words — he would meet any challenge and come out of it better in some fashion.

And he has. Wilson helped the Terps (8-4) earn a berth in the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl against Purdue with his work as a starting cornerback and a kickoff returner, positions at which his speed and smarts have made him a pro prospect.

Yet in an equally impressive feat, he will graduate from Maryland’s business school today to cap a ceaseless 31/2-year stretch of classes, workouts, internships and practices. His off-field experiences include membership in a national leadership honor society and an award as the ACC’s top senior student-athlete in football.

It almost surely will lead to success, be it in the business world or the NFL, in which his late father Tim played eight seasons after his own strong career at Maryland.

Wilson, though, knows his journey is only starting.

“I’ve got to grow up real fast,” Wilson said. “I’m going into a business that stands for ‘Not For Long.’ I’m going to try to try to make my stay as long as possible and get in the best position where I’m able to live comfortably. It’s comforting to know I’ve got that degree. Nobody can take that away from me no matter what.”

Taking care of business

Wilson’s performance this season — from an electrifying kickoff return for a touchdown against Georgia Tech to five broken up passes in a victory over Miami — was filled with opportune plays. However, he might have earned the “S” on his hat even before camp commenced.

The summer was in some ways a blur, a side effect of working nearly 40 hours a week at an internship at Morgan Stanley. He rushed back to College Park for lifting and 7-on-7 sessions, sometimes hustling into the team house in a coat and tie.

There was constant razzing from teammates about his well-to-do attire, and most of his internship stipend was funneled toward buying new clothes. Another byproduct was weariness for the usually indefatigable Wilson, who welcomed the start of camp as a respite from his sunrise-to-sunset routine.

“I told my mom, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this — 9-to-5 is just not for me,’ ” Wilson recalled. “This gave me a better understanding of why I need to make this football thing work out. It made me a little bit more hungry to do this.”

It was, however, a rewarding summer, particularly with the knowledge Wilson accrued about the financial world. He was always busy with something, a turnaround from an internship the summer before at Under Armour.

“I used to sit there in the chair in a cube, and it was like ‘I can’t sit here anymore,’ ” Wilson said. “In this cube, I feel I’m by myself, I’m talking and I’m going crazy. … I’m going to have take up another sport if I don’t make it. I have too much energy for that stuff. Once you’re an athlete, I don’t know how you can sit still for eight hours a day.”

At times, eight minutes can be too much. When the Terps’ first-team units scrimmage, Wilson is the first to inform his offensive counterparts about the drubbing they are about to incur.

Coach Ralph Friedgen describes him as “hyper-hyper,” a fair assessment for a player capable of aggravating any opponent with his constant jawing.

“There’s days you just don’t want to hear it,” quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. “Especially if we’re having a practice where we’re having a couple things go wrong and they’re getting on us, the coaches are on us and he’s yelling at us. There’s days you just want to throw a nine-route on him and get a touchdown on him — ‘All right, there you go. Now what do you have to say?’ ”

Usually, the answer is quite a bit.

Up for a challenge

A fountain flows down McKeldin Mall, one of the main pedestrian arteries on Maryland’s campus. Etched on the fountain’s panels are the names of the school’s members of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.

Wilson is one of the most recent additions.

“I was psyched over that,” Wilson said. “I get to get in front of my kids, and the first thing [won’t be] going over to the football complex. [It’ll be] ‘You see that fountain, kids? My name’s on that!’ ”

The honor also led to a rewarding moment for Wilson’s mother, Valanda. She insisted Josh maintain a 3.0 grade-point average at DeMatha Catholic High School or else she would yank him from the football and track teams. Meanwhile, most of his teammates were trying to earn a 2.0 to remain eligible.

Valanda Wilson also would drive Josh and other DeMatha students home after practice, leaving the light on in the car so everyone remained occupied with homework. Josh Wilson absorbed the emphasis on academics, and his mother happily watched his induction ceremony last spring.

“I was actually more proud when I saw how he was interacting with the other members of the group,” Valanda Wilson said. “He didn’t come off as ‘Josh, the football player.’ He came off as ‘Josh, another smart student,’ part of group that wanted to be in. It showed he has another dimension besides just being an athlete.”

In every part of his life, one theme is constant: an insatiable desire to compete, to be what he describes as “the one-up guy.”

Someone just caught a pass against him? It’s time for an interception. His dad was drafted in the third round of the 1977 NFL Draft? He wants to go no later than the second.

There are more routine moments the need to be the best surfaces, such as when his sister Talyce was trying to play peek-a-boo with her now 3-month-old daughter, Taryn, earlier this year.

“He was like ‘I can do it faster,’ ” Valanda Wilson said. “I said, ‘You’re being competitive with a newborn baby?’ Everything has to be competitive.”

Wilson will begin preparing for predraft workouts next month. His speed and ability to return kickoffs will help make him appealing in the NFL, in which versatility is often a necessity.

His degree is a security net, an assurance things will turn out well regardless of football. There is little doubt, though, that Wilson views the coming months as the next logical step for his successful Superman act.

“It’s a very exciting moment of my life. These next couple months are really going to write my next couple years,” Wilson said. “It’s like a video game. I went from playing to junior varsity to varsity. Now I’m getting ready to play Heisman. It’s a challenge, and I love challenges.”



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