Marshall football: WR Wilson quietly making an impact
HUNTINGTON - Antavious Wilson rebounded from a quiet 2011 to quietly climb into the top 10 of a pair of the Marshall football program's most important career receiving charts.
The senior enters Friday's 2 p.m. season finale at East Carolina (CBS Sports Network) ranked 10th on the Thundering Herd's career receiving yards list, amassing 2,226 since 2009. He's also seventh on the career receptions list, catching 180 passes.
Wilson's fellow senior receiver Aaron Dobson entered this season in the spotlight as a Biletnikoff Award watch list member. That spotlight turned toward sophomore Tommy Shuler as he caught pass after pass in one of the most prolific season performances in school history and found his way on to the Biletnikoff watch list.
Meanwhile, Wilson has more than doubled his catches from last season to this season and again became the scoring threat he was in his younger days.
"Knowing this was my last season and I had to make a big impact, that really motivated me to work harder and harder this offseason and during summer workouts," he said.
Call Wilson a silent assassin, and he smiles. If the Pahokee, Fla., native sneaks up on opposing defenses, he's fine with that. If those defenses focus on other receivers, he'll remind them he's around. And he doesn't want Friday's game to be the last game he's around.
As a freshman, Wilson burst onto the scene. He led Marshall that year with 60 catches for 724 yards with three touchdowns.
But injuries slowed him down the next two seasons.
He played only eight games in 2010 after suffering a torn meniscus, but tied Dobson for the team lead with five touchdowns, catching 29 passes overall for 342 yards.
He played all 12 games last season, starting 10, but couldn't regain his freshman form. He matched his sophomore year total with 29 catches, gaining 462 yards, but crossed the goal line just once.
As he prepared for his encore season, the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder knew the performances of the past two wouldn't cut it. So he woke early and spent every day in the weight room, even when the weight room was the last place he wanted to be. He worked on every aspect of his game to become the receiver he once was.
Once fall practice began, he could tell he was returning to his old form. That was confirmed with each game. Heading into Friday, he's caught a career-high 62 passes for six touchdowns, gaining 698 yards, a total that's second-best on the team.
His confidence never disappeared, but Wilson said every big performance built upon it.
"I never lose my confidence," he said. "I don't think anyone should lose confidence. If you lose confidence, you've just lost everything. With me cutting and getting catches and making blocks, that just made my confidence go higher and higher."
Now, with Dobson sidelined with a knee injury and his return in doubt, Wilson has become a veteran presence that quarterback Rakeem Cato needed in the Herd's hair-on-fire offense. Wilson's 62 catches and 698 yards are second on the team to Shuler's 96 catches and 997 yards. His six touchdown catches are second to tight end Gator Hoskins' 10.
Cato said the difference in Wilson from last season to now is vast.
"This year he had to turn it up a whole notch and he's playing his best football," Cato said. "It's everything. From routes to scoring to catches to blocking, he's turned everything around. He's progressed to where he's given himself a chance at the next level."
Right now, Wilson is focused on extending his collegiate career. He may be the receiving corps' quiet warrior, but Cato said his words hit home before the Herd's home finale win over Houston.
"I have a lot of brothers on this team that I'll never forget," he said, recalling his speech. "These last games we have to play, we have to get to this bowl game to make this last longer with my brothers."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.