With the loss of 4 senior linebackers, including 2012 starting MLB Mike Rallis and another unfortunate knee injury to reserve Brendan Beal, the Gopher staff knew finding immediate depth and talent at the middle linebacker position was a priority for the 2013 recruiting cycle. Enter Jones County (MS) JC linebacker Damien Wilson, the newest pledge to Minnesota's 2013 class according to Ryan Burns of Gopher Illustrated.
Wilson selected the Gophers over listed offers from Kansas, Memphis and a host of other FBS programs. Rated a 3 star prospect by the 247Sports Industry Composite, Damien originally signed with Alcorn State back in 2011 and played defensive end as a true freshman, turning quite a few heads with his performance at the FCS level. Wilson earned JUCO All American honorable mention after finishing 4th in the NJCAA in tackles per game (122 total tackles) and 3rd in solo tackles.
From Burns' commitment article ($):
"It was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Wilson said. "I love that Minnesota is in the Big Ten and that I have a chance to play and potentially start right away. I know they told me they were losing four linebackers, so to me that means playing time is up for grabs, and I want to go get it."
Already talking about earning a starting spot rather than assuming the job is his. I like the mentality.
ESPNU evaluation ($) [since when did they start writing up evals for JUCOs?]
He is quick to diagnose and react to what he sees. He shows above average lateral movement skills to slip blocks in tight quarters. He uses his hands to shed and disengage blockers and flashes the ability to redirect and make a play. Size is an issue but Wilson plays tough.
Music to Gopher fans' ears after the common complaints of the linebacking corps this season.
YouTubes and/or other Highlights
Senior year highlights via Hudl.
(Likely Fraudulent) Measureables
Weight: 230 lbs.
Fake 40 Time: 4.59s
First off, I like the production out of Wilson at the JUCO level. Scratch that: I love the production at any level -- in only 9 games, no less. Factor in that Wilson is a December graduate and apparently hungry to earn his way on the field rather than assume the starting spot is his to lose, and there's little to complain about this pick up. Ok, folks will probably complain about his listed weight (230 lbs.) being too light for the B1G, though I'll point out the late Gary Tinsley was listed on the official roster at 232 lbs. as a senior.
There's a couple questions I have though, mostly surrounding his path to Minnesota. Wilson hails from Ellisville, a tiny (as in under 700 residents tiny) town in Southwest Mississippi not known for producing many FBS prospects. As an under the radar high school prospect, Wilson was offered a walk-on spot at Mississippi State but chose a full-ride at Alcorn State instead. Wilson had a breakout campaign at ASU as a true freshman, tallying up 60 total tackles, 15 TFLs and 6.5 sacks as a defensive end. Perhaps it was his precocious nature as a Brave that convinced him he had the talent necessary to play at the FBS level, hence the transfer to Jones County in 2012.
Whatever the scenario, much like current Gopher defender Roland Johnson, Wilson has produced at every level of college football he's tried thus far, which understandably caught the eye of the Minnesota coaching staff in need of a player to step in right away. Back to his playing weight, Damien's high school recruiting profile listed him at 220 lbs. while his DE page at ASU put him at 250 lbs.; it's not inconceivable that he could potentially add another 8-12 lbs. during Coach Klein's offseason conditioning program and bulk up towards a more robust heft and strength level required of Big Ten middle linebackers.
In summation, JUCO recruiting is always a crapshoot and one generally only goes the JUCO route to fill a specific need. Last year, the need was cornerback. The year prior, it was wide receiver. Give it a full two years to determine whether the Gopher staff scored a direct hit with Wilson, though he has practically all the necessary buy signs one looks for out of a potential immediate contributor.
Plus, Gopher fans will get a chance to see how he performs with his new team relatively soon. Always a bonus.