With tight end Richard Wilson back in the early stages of practice, the depth at the tight end position just got a little stronger.
“I probably feel about 90 percent to 100 depending on the day,” Wilson said. “There is some soreness and tendinitis that I have. I think what most of it is, is just me coming out and testing it. It’s been 10 months since I played in a real football game.”
Being away from the game of football for 10 months is quite a long time, especially when those months are filled with pain and suffering following a devastating knee injury.
“I was on crutches for two and a half months and people don’t realize that I had to learn how to walk again,” Wilson said. “It took literally about a month for me to learn how to walk again. I was on crutches for two and a half months. All the muscle that I had in my quad has basically deteriorated. I had to lay in bed for over a month and then I was on crutches for two and a half months.”
Following the painful surgery, and after the swelling was allowed to subside, it was time for Wilson to get the range of motion in his knee back.
“My MCL detached from every attachment there is, so the doctors wanted me to be on crutches and be on a non-weight bearing regiment for months to allow it to heal correctly,” Wilson said. “I mean, if I didn’t take care of it right, there was a chance it might not have healed correctly because it was such a bad injury.”
Not being able to be physically active for a long time took its toll on Wilson’s body.
“I lost around 30 pounds after my surgery and laying in bed not being able to do anything,” Wilson recalled. “I dropped down to 205 pounds, but since then I’ve been able to get myself back to around 230 again. The whole process of being injured just sucks. You’re dealing with the injury and not being with your guys every week. I just think as I slowly get back into it and get back into the groove of things, the quarterbacks will see that I’m back and have more trust in me and can see that I can be the old Richard Wilson. It will be good. It’s just about more trust and more comfortability.
“Strength-wise I feel great, and stability-wise I feel great. I would say on a physical side I’m probably a little less than where I was pre-injury, but it’s getting there. On the mental side of things that’s a little bit different.”
The mental part of recovery is often the last hurdle.
“I’m still slowly getting back into it and there is a bit more caution there because you know what you just went through just to be able to run again,” Wilson said. “This is the first time since I’ve been in organized football in over 10 months, but as time wears on I will get better. I’m also a little rusty in my route running and need to get that part polished it. It’s coming, but I need to get over this tendonitis I’m having right now.”
The first day of fall camp, Wilson was a bit timid in both one-on-one blocking drills and route running. Easing into the necessary aggression that is part of the game requires learning to trust one’s body once again.
“The first day I was really unsure about it and a little timid because it was my first day,” Wilson said. “It was my first day back and I wasn’t sure how everything was, and you have to kind of test things to get that confidence back. I’m also trying to get used to this new knee brace, but I’ll work with it and I’m playing and that’s all I can ask for.”
However, as the first day of practice turned into the second and third days, Wilson seemed to be more relaxed. He was no longer wading in the shallow end of the testing pool. As practice wore on, he found himself swimming in the deeper end of practice participation.
“Yeah, the first day was sort of rough, but now I feel a lot better about things,” Wilson said. “I think it’s all about comfortability and seeing that I can have more trust in my leg. I did it my first day and everything was fine. Then it was about doing it again and see if I can do a little more. Then you realize that you can, and with that your confidence grows. Now I’m going to do it again and as long as my mind stays strong and I keep trusting in myself, I’ll be good.”
During last Saturday’s practice, Wilson caught a couple of passes over the middle with surprisingly good timing and speed. He caught one pass and ran up the field until he was run out of bounds by a safety.
“It feels good to be back,” he said. “It’s hard to be hurt and you’re not with your team but just watching them. It’s hard, very hard.”
In an odd, almost epiphanic way, Wilson’s injury opened up his mind and helped him to see life differently.
“I’ve learned so much from this process and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. I had to learn to overcome adversity and patience,” Wilson said. “Football was all that I had and in an instant it was taken away from me. It really helped me to understand what really is more important in life. When I was laying in bed and thinking about things, it helped me to understand why I’m so grateful I’m here at BYU. It really put things into perspective and I appreciate being here even more.”
While Wilson was being recruited during his senior year at Springville High School, he had offers from LSU, Miami, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA and Utah, to name a few. However, he’s happy that he’s at BYU.
“I’m definitely [glad my injury] happened here because I now realize from a personal level what Coach Mendenhall means and what this program is all about,” Wilson said. “If I had gone somewhere else and had this type of injury, I don’t know if I could have done it. There’s more purpose now and meaning.”
Standing on the sideline last week with a big smile on her face was Richard’s mother Maryann. Watching her son running and catching passes like he had done so many times before seemed to warmed her heart more than most will every realized.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to do it without my mom,” said Wilson with a smile. “I don’t know if I would have been able to overcome everything being so far away from home. She is the one that pushed me and was a big inspiration to me. She is the one that took me to school every day because they wouldn’t let me drive. She took really good care of me. If I was somewhere else, I don’t know what I would have done.”
From here on out for Wilson, there’s nowhere to go but up.
“Just keep going through camp and be consistent,” Wilson said about what he wants to accomplish. “I want to continue to be consistent everyday and that’s what Coach Reynolds wants from us as tight ends. I think he’s right about that, because if I can continue to be consistent, my confidence will grow. From there I’ll be able to build upon that every day. I’ve come a long ways and now that I’m back I’m just grateful that I’m where I’m at. I want to continue to progress while staying healthy. That’s the goal. I’ve come too far and overcame so many challenges to not continue making the climb upwards.”
Keep on running Richard Wilson; you’ve overcome so much not to.