Wilson embracing position switch
When highly sought graduate transfer Kelly Bryant announced his intent to transfer from Clemson to Missouri, junior Micah Wilson saw the writing on the wall. The addition of former TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson two weeks later made it even more clear. Wilson, who spent the past two seasons as a backup quarterback, had a decision to make: either accept being a backup for the rest of his time in a Tiger uniform or find somewhere else where he might see the field sooner.
Wilson made a compromise of sorts. Instead of changing physical locations by transferring schools, he opted to remain at Missouri. But this season, he will line up at a different position: wide receiver. Even though Wilson has never played receiver in his football career, those that know him believe his physical and mental prowess will allow him to make the transition smoothly.
“He's one of the best athletes on our team,” backup quarterback Taylor Powell said. “... Just learning to run the routes, learning the playbook from that perspective, he's gonna be just fine. He's gonna really excel at that position."
Despite seeing that Missouri has, in all likelihood, established its starting quarterbacks for the next two seasons, Wilson said he never truly considered leaving the school. His father, Curtis, played on the offensive line for Missouri during the 1980s, and Wilson likes his fit at the university and in the locker room.
“I love Mizzou,” Wilson said. “I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. So, really, I didn’t want to transfer.”
Wilson also knew from the start that switching to wide receiver might be an option. Last spring, he “messed around” at wideout for a few drills during two practices, but ultimately decided to stay at quarterback. He’s played there virtually his entire football career, but that hasn’t been due to a lack of other options. Jerry Ricke, the current head coach at Lincoln Christian high school who served as offensive coordinator when Wilson played there, called Wilson “the best athlete in the school.” In addition to playing football, Wilson also ran track at Lincoln Christian, and Ricke believes he could have been one of the best players on the basketball team had he ever played.
Ricke opted to utilize Wilson’s athleticism at the position where he could most directly impact the game, as a dual-threat quarterback. But for a few of the team’s bigger games, the coaches also asked Wilson to play on the defensive side of the ball, at safety. Ricke said he picked it up without an issue.
“Kind of the bigger games, when we had to have him, against teams that threw the ball well, he played some safety,” Ricke said. “And he did a good job.”
Playing behind Drew Lock for the past two seasons, Wilson didn’t get a chance to see much action during his first two years at Missouri, but in his limited playing time, he showed flashes of his athleticism. He ran the ball 21 times for 118 yards during his six games of action, including a 22-yard touchdown run when he faked a handoff to a running back and out-ran a linebacker to the edge, scoring without being touched. Powell called Wilson “one of the fastest guys on our team.” He’s got size, too. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Wilson is no slot receiver. He’ll play on the outside for Missouri. Ricke believes his size could make him a valuable possession receiver — someone who can catch a back-shoulder pass or wall off a defender at the first-down marker and make a catch. But he also said not to overlook Wilson’s speed, which could be used to take the top off a defense.
That athleticism allowed Wilson to make the position switch, but where Wilson could have an edge on other receivers is his understanding of route concepts thanks to his time as a quarterback. Wilson said he didn’t have to spend time learning new plays or route concepts because he already knew the responsibilities of everyone on the field on each play.
“Just knowing where the quarterback and when the quarterback wants to throw the ball will help (Wilson) at receiver, just with timing and the specifics of the routes that they’re running,” Ricke said. “He’ll know what is expected from the other end.”
Wilson said he’s already comfortable catching the ball. He’s only run routes against defenders for two practices now, but he said he’s made “a few one-handers that are pretty nice” running routes against air. Instead of poring over the playbook, he has focused his energy on his route-running skills, which he said has been the most challenging aspect of his position switch.
“There really is like an art to attacking the corner’s leverage or knowing where he’s weak,” Wilson explained. “It’s just another aspect of it that you don’t really think of at quarterback, but I’m figuring it out, trying to get it.”
Wilson’s physical and mental attributes seem to make him an ideal fit at wideout, but he knows he’ll have a lot of competition for playing time. Missouri brings back five wide receivers who had at least eight receptions a season ago, plus graduate transfer Jonathan Nance. But Ricke said Wilson has embraced the competition. Speaking with Wilson when he was home during Christmas break, Ricke got the sense that Wilson is excited by the challenge of learning a new position. Multiple times Tuesday, Wilson described the transition as “fun.” Ricke believes that enthusiasm will only speed up Wilson’s transition.
“Micah, since I known him, he’s been the ultimate kid to get himself ready to play,” Ricke said. “Whatever it is, he’s going to do every little thing. Whether it’s studying the playbook; he’s unbelievable with his nutrition, weight room. He will do the little things, every little thing he can to get ready to play, and with this new possibility, I think you’ll see him work even harder.”