COLUMBIA — When Jay Wilson found out that his son, redshirt freshman linebacker Andrew Wilson, would be starting at middle linebacker against McNeese State, Jay Wilson knew he would have to disobey his doctors' orders.
Fresh off of hip replacement surgery, Jay Wilson had been told not to go to Missouri football games until October. But he was determined to be at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11 to cheer on his son.
He found himself prepared for the situation, though. When he had chosen his doctor, the first question he asked was, “Where did you go to school?”
“My doctor went to Nebraska,” Jay Wilson said by phone, from the family's home in Peculiar. “I chose him because of our common hatred for the Jayhawk.”
A red-and-blue-blooded doctor might have refused to let Jay Wilson go to the game and have made him stay at home and watch on pay-per-view. But in a show of good faith between Cornhusker and Tiger, Wilson was cleared to make the trip.
With his father in the stands, Andrew Wilson made seven tackles for the Tigers. When Jay Wilson was asked about his son’s performance, he said he was just excited for his son. But he also brought up a few missed tackles.
It’s not nitpicking, Jay Wilson knows something about playing linebacker at Missouri. The mark has since been eclipsed, but with 383 tackles between 1979 and 1983, Jay Wilson left Missouri as the program's most prolific tackler.
No one was expecting Andrew Wilson to be as good as his father, but after a fast start, those expectations might need to be raised. That’s nothing new. Andrew Wilson has been exceeding expectations all season.
The Tigers have an abundance of riches at linebacker. There are senior leaders Luke Lambert and Andrew Gachkar. There is junior Will Ebner, one of the nation's hardest hitters, and sophomore Zaviar Gooden, possibly the fastest linebacker in the conference. The four were expected to play the majority of minutes at the three linebacker positions this season.
Andrew Wilson was the sixth linebacker on the depth chart. With talent and experience above him at every position, he wasn't asked to be an impact player for the Tigers this season.
Then sophomore linebacker Donovan Bonner tore his ACL in the first week of practice, and Andrew Wilson moved up the depth chart. He was expected to contribute when needed, but not much more.
Then Ebner’s two-game suspension moved Wilson into the four-man rotation for the game against Illinois in St. Louis.
Luke Lambert’s injury during that game made Andrew Wilson a starter.
It was a crazy few weeks for the Missouri football team, and it put Andrew Wilson, with one game and one career tackle, on the spot. Jay Wilson admits that he was a bit nervous for his son.
“If you would have told me last year, or this summer, that he would be a starter or play this much, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Jay Wilson said. “But I always tried to preach to him to seize the opportunities he is given."
Andrew Wilson has done just that. In his five games, he has made 18 tackles, the sixth-most on the team. He has displayed exceptional versatility to make a four-man rotation into a five-man one. But that versatility is not new.
When Andrew Wilson started playing football in sixth grade, he was a linebacker, just like his father. And he was good at it too. Jay Wilson said his son has always displayed a natural talent for finding the ball on defense.
But when Andrew Wilson was a sophomore at Raymore-Peculiar High School, he converted to defensive end to earn playing time. The Panthers won the state title that season.
“I’ve always been the one to tell him the more positions you play, the more you learn,” Jay Wilson said. “It’s great that he gets to play all three positions now.”
Andrew Wilson is back to fifth on the depth chart again. Senior Luke Lambert is back to full health. Ebner’s suspension ended after the McNeese State game, and Zaviar Gooden and Andrew Gachkar have been outstanding for the Tigers.
Jay Wilson got to talk with Ebner at the McNeese State game. He wanted to thank Ebner for helping during his son's redshirt season in 2009.
“Andrew felt like he wasn’t really part of the team at points last year,” Jay Wilson said. “I just told him that I was redshirted after playing my freshman year, and I think that’s worse.”
When Jay Wilson acknowledged to Ebner that his son isn’t the most talkative player on the football team, Ebner gave him a weird look. Andrew Wilson is a quiet person off the field, but according to his teammates, he won’t shut up on the sidelines. It's not a problem, they say, but it can get annoying.
Lambert laughed when describing Andrew Wilson’s antics.
"He’s a guy who will over think and get excited on the sidelines. He’ll ask a lot of questions. It’s kind of hectic. He wants to know everything and wants to make sure he has every corner kept.” Lambert said. “But when he gets on the field, he gets in the zone. He relaxes and makes big plays.”
As the Tigers' fifth linebacker, Andrew Wilson’s versatility will be tested. He must seamlessly enter the game anytime a fellow linebacker gets tired. Inside or outside, he will have to adapt at a moment's notice. But after such a strong start, his teammates have no qualms about depending on him.
“It’s definitely really comforting,” Gachkar said. “I’ve already used him a couple times, whenever I get tired on a drive, I’ll just call over to the sidelines really quick and get him in.”
No matter who he is subbing for, Andrew Wilson is opening eyes, continuing his father's legacy a little earlier than expected.
“We all knew he was going to be good player when he came in,” Gachkar said. “But it’s surprising how early he’s developing.”