For the first 15 games of his college football career, Boe Wilson was a challenger for a starting job.
That’s a pretty nice accomplishment for a young offensive lineman in and of itself, and Wilson’s not one to complain about much of anything.
From the moment the 6-foot-3 305-pounder’s redshirt freshman year began in 2017, though, the sense that permeated around the program was that perhaps Wilson could be or would be or should be on Nebraska’s top line sooner rather than later.
Well, sooner probably felt like it was turning into later when Wilson, once again, found himself on primarily special teams duty for all of 2017 and then the No. 2 line at the beginning of 2018.
The Lee’s Summit West (Missouri) graduate played in all 12 games in 2017 and the first three of 2018, but was never a starter despite injuries to Michael Decker, Cole Conrad, David Knevel and Matt Farniok in 2017, and despite a productive offseason under a new strength and conditioning staff last year.
“For me, I never really worried about that stuff and I just put my head down and worked,” Wilson said. “When I first came here, I had a chance to start and it just didn’t work out. That’s fine. I think it was for the best in the long run."
That time is growing fuzzy in the rearview mirror now, though, as Wilson chatted last week with a reporter. He was thrown in the fire as Nebraska’s starting right guard in late September and he never looked back, starting the Huskers’ final nine games.
“This past season, I just went with the flow and when the opportunity presented itself I just took advantage of it,” Wilson said. “That wasn’t until probably the beginning of the season, honestly. I went into fall camp not knowing if I would start or whatever.”
Tanner Farmer, rightfully, received much credit for helping the unit find another gear when he slid from right guard to center, but Wilson contributed to that improvement, too. After NU’s first win Oct. 20 against Minnesota, Husker coach Scott Frost said Wilson “is giving us a spark,” a sentiment he repeated over the back half of the season.
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“The way I evaluate my play overall is I — and well, still — have a lot of stuff to work on,” Wilson said. “I’ve got stuff to work on. … I think the biggest part for me is just evaluating defenses, learning pressures and knowing that stuff ahead of time so that I was prepared for the games.”
Now Wilson is an entrenched starter, part of a young group that’s got its sights set high as the 2019 season inches ever closer.
“We’re in a great position,” Wilson said. “Yeah, we’ve got the center position and we’ve got a few guys competing for that, but overall we’ve got me, Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok coming back, and I think all three of us are doing pretty good at at least making sure the younger guys and the guys that can start this year are well-prepared to do that.”
Wilson has had to work to get himself into a position of leadership and he’ll likely have to work to stay there. He’s not the biggest lineman on the Huskers’ roster — in fact, he’s tied for the shortest among the current crop of starters or realistic candidates — and isn’t exactly cut from the physical mold that offensive line coach Greg Austin and Frost seem to prioritize on the recruiting front.
He’s clearly got the temperament that the staff likes, though. Wilson readily admits he runs hot during practice, and he’s among the more demonstrative players on the Husker offense during games.
Austin this spring was talking about sophomore walk-on Trent Hixson, but he might as well have been talking about Wilson when he said, “The hardest thing to coach is effort. Really, it’s like speed. You can’t make a 4.2 guy out of a 4.9 guy. I can’t make a guy play with way, way, way more effort than he normally plays with. Now, I can stay on his ass about being consistent and his technique needs to be consistent and all that stuff.
“But, generally speaking, if you get a guy that plays with high effort and high intensity, then you’re half of the way there.”
Wilson’s at least half of the way there. He spent more than a season working toward a chance to start, then jumped on it and hasn’t let up since.