Late Thursday night as the NFL Draft’s first round wound down, David Wilson got the phone call of a lifetime.
The former U.S. Under-19 National Team member was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, joining the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants as the 32nd pick.
USA Football Board Member and former NFL running back Merril Hoge advises Wilson and everyone else who will be both drafted and undrafted this weekend the same thing:
Treat today like a beginning, and you can do well.
“I played four years of college, went through the workouts, the NFL Combine, all that stuff,” Hoge said. “After the draft, there was a brief sense of relief, of accomplishment and joy. But that is when the real work begins.”
Wilson was named MVP of the 2009 IFAF Under-19 World Championship, leading the United States to a gold medal by rushing for 427 yards and eight touchdowns in three games. Last fall at Virginia Tech, the Danville, Va., native earned ACC Most Valuable Player after running for a school-record 1,709 yards and nine touchdowns.
“I was sitting on the bed and the Giants had the last pick in the first round,” Wilson told the New York media Thursday night. “And then Tampa Bay traded (up), and I thought, ‘Maybe they’ll get a running back. I know they need a running back.’ At that point, I was hoping for anything.
“The Giants are Super Bowl champions, and I’m like ‘They probably won’t pick me … .’ I was just hoping that something would happen, and I get the New Jersey call, and I start screaming. …. It was the best call that I got in a long time.”
Former Syracuse safety Philip Thomas also played on the 2009 Under-19 team and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. Thomas led the Orange with 82 tackles and six interceptions last fall.
Hoge lasted until the 10th round in 1987 before being taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Projected as high as a third-round prospect, Hoge was disappointed as he sat and watched name after name being called. Finally, the Steelers selected him with pick No. 261.
“It was painful at the beginning and excruciating at the end. But I got over it,” Hoge said. “I didn’t care when I got drafted, and the coaches didn’t care either. When you get on the field, it’s all about can you play this game and help your team win.”
Hoge played seven seasons with the Steelers and one with the Chicago Bears, finishing with 3,139 rushing yards, 2,133 receiving yards and 34 total touchdowns.
His approach was simple: Trust himself and his skills, don’t try to do too much and don’t fear what he couldn’t do.
“If you have the capacity, you will be fine,” Hoge said. “The draft is not an exact science. Guys get drafted too early or too late every year. People get caught up in numbers and not how well a guy can play football. In the end, that’s what matters.”
David Wilson highlight video (includes 2009 pregame)