IRVING - Jeffery Wilson is a veteran at the University of North Texas in several ways.
For one, the Elkhart product who ran for 936 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Mean Green last fall as a junior, is now in his final season in Denton. And, for a second straight year, Wilson was among the UNT contingent at the 2017 Conference USA Football Media Kickoff, held Wednesday and Thursday at a hotel near DFW Airport.
“It hit me a minute ago (that my senior year is here),” Wilson said. “It was about the first day of summer workouts. After the workout was done, the players went inside and I said this is the last one, we got to make the best of it. It’s crazy but hey, I’m glad it’s here.”
UNT finished 5-8 last season, a campaign punctuated by a loss to Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. But considering that the Mean Green was one year removed from firing then-head coach Dan McCarney in 2015 after a blowout loss to FCS school Portland State, to call Wilson’s time in Denton eventful might be an understatement.
However, the affable running back views his time with the Mean Green from more of a glass half-full mentality.
“I look at it as a blessing because everything happens for a reason,” Wilson said. “I haven’t played a full season yet. But when I say that, that’s all right because it gave me a (reason to) grind for my last year to make sure that I’m on the field and every day that I can work out, I work towards being on the field every down in every game of this year.”
For the past year and a half, Wilson has been playing for Seth Littrell, hired to turn things around at UNT in December 2015. And since arriving, Littrell, who previously worked at big schools like Arizona and North Carolina, has leaned heavily on upperclassmen like Wilson for their veteran leadership.
“Obviously, leadership is influence and he has a lot of influence on this football team, one because of the amount of plays he’s made and he’s a really good football player,” Littrell said. “He’s really grown, there’s no doubt he has great influence on our team. He’s a great teammate and he works hard.”
Wilson’s leadership style can best be characterized as lead-by-example, but it’s a mentality that serves him well. He even displayed some of that leadership this summer when he chose to spend most of his time in Denton instead of going back home to Elkhart for more than a few days at a time.
“I went home a couple times, but I was in Denton 24/7 for anything from rehabbing, working out, film, the whole nine. I wanted to get the most of this year, so I felt like going home wasn’t going to do that for me,” Wilson said.
One reason he’s remained at UNT for most of the summer is because he wanted to fine tune every factor tied to his on-field health (nutrition, sleep, stretching, working out) so that he can finish his collegiate career by not missing a game.
And if he can pass along some of the sage advice he received earlier in his career from older teammates, he’s willing to pay that forward. “You always have to give back. Growing up, my father that’s one of the main things he taught me: you never can be stingy with a gift that somebody else gave you,” Wilson said. “I would like to be a blessing to anybody that I can and in any way I can. Helping those guys and being a good mentor for them is what I strive to be.”
- Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco.