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W&M freshman QB Darius Wilson: 'perfect combination of coach’s son, extremely athletic, extremely bright'
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W&M freshman QB Darius Wilson: 'perfect combination of coach’s son, extremely athletic, extremely bright'

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WILLIAMSBURG — Darius Wilson took a couple of large licks just after completing each of two passes in Saturday’s 31-24 William & Mary win over Albany. There’s another step in the development of a quarterback who was playing high school football during the spring.

It seemed highly unlikely that Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound lefty from the Bronx, N.Y., would be W&M’s starter with four games of experience at this stage of the season. But here he is, and the Tribe (4-1, 2-0 CAA) have won four straight since losing 43-0 at Virginia to begin the year.

Wilson ranks 10th nationally in completion percentage (67.1), passing for a modest 138 yards a game and running for 54 more.

“Darius is a special kid, a perfect combination of coach’s son, extremely athletic, extremely bright,” said Joe Spagnolo, who coached Wilson at Iona Prep. “He’s been kind of groomed to be a quarterback. That’s the best way I could say it.”

Wilson’s father, Edmund Wilson, started a youth football organization in New York, and now is the freshman coach at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx.

Numerous FCS programs, including most of those in the CAA, were interested in Wilson, according to Spagnolo. Wilson was, and still is, somewhat slender, which limited his recruiting appeal on the FBS front. His recruiting cycle was severely disrupted by the pandemic.

When Wilson arrived at W&M in August, the presumption was that either junior Hollis Mathis would have recovered from shoulder surgery and be ready to begin another season as a starter, or Arizona transfer Kevin Doyle would step in. Mathis wasn’t ready. Doyle participated in summer camp and then left William & Mary before classes started.

So Wilson was the Tribe’s quarterback at Virginia, which must seem ages ago considering the road he traveled since.

“I’ve enjoyed all of it,” Wilson said. “There have been lots of ups and downs. It’s all about adversity, battling back. First game, UVA, we got killed. So, you’ve got to keep pushing through that.

“The theme is just adversity and pushing forward.”

Mathis was in uniform and, based on pregame passing drills, available against Albany.

On homecoming, the Tribe trailed Albany 21-3 at halftime with this true freshman, Wilson, at QB, not an ideal setup for William & Mary. The picture changed rapidly. The Tribe received the second-half kickoff and drove 87 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown that cut the Great Danes’ lead to 21-10.

“I think that’s what, obviously, led us to that comeback,” Wilson said of the 5:37 scoring drive on which he ran for 22 yards and completed two passes for 25 yards. “Because when you start fast, then the momentum just carries. You saw how we started slow in the beginning of the game. We were kind of flat for the first half. But we got the fast start in the second half and we just carried it all the way to the end.”

Less than two minutes after that first-drive score in the second half, W&M made it 21-17, recovering a high punt snap in the end zone.

Saturday, the Tribe visit Maine (1-4, 0-3 CAA), which starts Derek Robertson at quarterback. Robertson played the position at Iona Prep before Wilson did. Wilson was the Iona Prep JV QB when Robertson was the varsity starter.

“There’s an improvement. You see it,” W&M coach Mike London said of Wilson. “It’s on-the-job training.”

joconnor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6233

Twitter: @RTDjohnoconnor

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