By KEVIN WEAKS
In what has been a career full of transitions, Paducah, Ky., native George Wilson is going to have to be a student all over again.
Now, though, he also has the experience and credibility to be a teacher, too.
“That is certainly something the coaching staff mentioned when I came in,” Wilson said Friday afternoon, prior to the Tennessee Titans’ Caravan stop at Lake Road School. “They saw a need and I was available to come in and fill that need. That’s something I take great pride in. Just to come in and learn the Titans’ way of doing things is basically what my focus is right now.
“The guys in the locker room have welcomed me with open arms, and I’m just trying to build that credibility with the guys so that when I do speak, my words have merit and credibility.”
The caravan, sponsored by Academy Sports and Outdoors, made its third stop of the day, bringing its Play 60 message to the elementary students at Lake Road. Wilson, a veteran safety acquired by the Titans via free agency, made this leg of the caravan with tight end Delanie Walker.
He took time before the scheduled stop to speak with The Messenger about his career, his arrival in Tennessee and his role with the team both on and off the field.
While he will provide some much-needed help on the defensive side of the ball, where the Titans struggled throughout their 6-10 season last year, he also brings leadership qualities to the locker room.
The eight-year pro was the Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient for the Buffalo Bills in 2009 and ’11 and was named Bills’ team captain in each of his final five seasons in Buffalo.
His new teammates have already made it a point to seek him out to talk about his career. Most are surprised, and then even more impressed, after finding out that his NFL career did not start on defense.
“A lot of guys have made comments to me and just shared their thoughts about my career,” Wilson said. “A lot of them were not aware that I started my career as a wide receiver and made the move to safety at this level, so that certainly gives me some respect. But, just to work with these guys day-in and day-out gives me even more of a rapport with them. They can understand that I’m here to do what’s needed to help us win more ballgames.”
Wilson is part of a defense in transition. The Titans picked five defensive players in the NFL Draft last week in addition to signing Wilson in the off-season.
With Jerry Gray in his third year as Titans’ defensive coordinator, the team added Gregg Williams as a special assistant on defense. Williams, who spent 11 seasons in the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans organization from 1990-2000, including four as the defensive coordinator, comes over from New Orleans. He was suspended last season for his role in the bounty scandal.
Wilson’s position coach has a unique perspective on Wilson’s career. Secondary coach Brett Maxie, in his second season with the Titans and 16th overall, was a 13-year pro. He was signed as an undrafted free agent at the safety position.
“These first two weeks, there are clear expectations for this football team,” Wilson said. “We get that from the coaching staff, from Mike Munchak on down. We have two great defensive guys making calls in Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams. They give clear expectations of what every guy should be willing to do, and that’s being unselfish, being willing to do whatever’s necessary to win ballgames, and I certainly am. I’m ready to step up to the plate in any capacity.”
Those staff members, taking their cue from head coach Munchak, could be described as players’ coaches, Wilson said.
“In our meetings, they’re very up front and honest about everything,” Wilson said. “They give us a clear vision, and as a professional, the expectations are what you want to know. You want those things out in front. We’re all men, and we’re all professionals and we all can handle the information they give us.
“You don’t always have the opportunity to have things given to you honestly,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, it’s sugarcoated, sometimes you’re told what they think you want to hear. But one thing about this coaching staff is you have a lot of former players, and with that you have people who know what’s it like to be a professional athlete. You have an idea of what your position coach was taught when he was playing, and they have an understanding of what they want to get out of their players.”
From the head coach to the assistant to the players — being a professional is what Wilson says the Titans’ organization is all about. He plans to learn from his new coaches and then help teach the team’s new players.
“I’m one of the free agents coming in, and it’s one of my jobs, as well as the other veterans, to just show these young guys the way — teach them how to be professionals, teach them what it takes to be prepared when you take the field on Sunday,” Wilson said. “That’s physically in the weight room, mentally in the meeting room when you’re taking notes and watching film and then just trying to transition from the meeting room to the practice field and from the practice field to game field because it’s a process and you have to enjoy all of the process to have a long and productive career. You can’t dread one particular part of it.”
Count Wilson as a player who enjoys every aspect of the job.
“I like it all,” he said. “Like I tell people, we work Monday through Saturday. Sunday is game day. We do that for free. That’s what we love about it, and that’s what the fans get to see. You don’t always get to see all the hard work and labor that’s put into preparing to playing those games. I enjoy the entire process, not one part over any other. I enjoy every part of it, from training camp to these off-season workouts to the preseason games because that’s where you build the rapport, that’s where you build the team chemistry and that’s certainly where you get some kind of idea of what kind of identity you’re going to have as a ballclub.”
Wilson did say that events like the caravan are especially pleasing for him, saying it give fans — children in particular — a chance to see the players up close while bringing the team’s and the league’s message to towns and cities throughout the region.
And, for Wilson, this region is home.
A graduate of Paducah Tilghman High School, where he was a four-sport standout, Wilson went to college at Arkansas and then spent his pro career to date in the extreme northeast of upstate New York. Paducah, about three hours from Nashville via I-24, is Titans Country.
“It feels great to be part of the Tennessee Titans organization,” Wilson said. “I’ve spent a lot of time up in Buffalo and then Arkansas when I went to college, so I’ve been away from home since I left Tilghman. To have the opportunity to come home and play as close as I can on the professional level, and for my family and friends to have the opportunity to come and see me pay week-in and week-out, is truly a dream come true. I never would’ve dreamed of playing this close to home, and I think my family is even more excited about the season than I am.”
As a Southerner and former SEC player, Wilson knows how football-crazy this part of the nation is. Simply by signing with the Titans, he immediately become a favorite of a very passionate fan base.
“Being from the South and this area, you know the passion that comes with football and all sports,” Wilson said. “So there’s definitely a lot of team loyalty. In just the short time I’ve been with the Titans organization, I’ve started to get a sense of that love and passion Titans’ fans have for their football.
“I wore blue in high school and now I’m in two-tone blue. I have family in Nashville, so I’ll probably have one of the loudest and largest fan sections in the stadium on game day.”
The Titans will open the 2013 preseason at home on Aug. 8 against the Washington Redskins. That will be Wilson’s official homecoming, not to mention the first day of classes for the new student … and teacher.
Sports reporter Kevin Weaks can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 5.6.13