Once upon a time, Dadrian Wilson was a renown stud as a defensive football player.
Those years playing Indian Nations Football in grade school were filled with honors as a result of his linebacker play.
“Three times I was our team’s Defensive Player of the Year,” he said. “People would look at me and said ‘oh, this kid’s going to be good.’”
Wilson is still a linebacker. Sometimes.
But a transformation began to evolve that led him to becoming an offensive lineman, one that has earned high expectations from those around him.
“He’s one of the pleasant surprises we’ve had this offseason,” Muskogee head coach Rafe Watkins said. “I’d say he’s emerged as the leader on the line and if he wasn’t starting there, he’d be a starting linebacker for us.”
Josh McMillan, who coaches the Roughers’ offensive line, could see this possibility coming, even though Wilson is been built more like a linebacker. Entering his senior season, he’s 5-foot-7, 212 pounds.
“I knew he was kind of special when he was a sophomore and we had him playing a position he thought he was too undersized to play,” McMillan said. “One of our jobs as coaches is to get kids to believe in themselves, and he built up that confidence.”
Not everyone has a stock of 6-3 to 6-5 guys weighing 240 to 260 or more. Most of the time, it takes the development of undersized guys to play a position that doesn’t get a lot of headlines. And that development takes a high degree of commitment that doesn’t match the glory of the position.
“He’s undersized but he’s got the heart of a lion and it shows,” McMillan said. “He’s one of our primal leaders. We use him in film quite a bit as an example of what to do. He’s one of the better technical players we have up front and all the guys can learn from him if they watch him.
“This isn’t to inflate his ego by any means, but he does everything we ask him to. He’s gotten better and stronger I the weight room, he takes everything serious, he shows up all the time.”
Offensive linemen aren’t involved in 7-on-7 passing league drills, but for Wilson, that’s been overtime work. Watkins has taken on the duty of coaching linebackers, and Wilson was summoned by him to contribute there.
“That’s a huge compliment to an offensive lineman that the actual linebacker coach trusts you enough to put you in a 7-on-7 or team camp in that spot,” McMillan said.
Wilson’s focus over the offseason reaped rewards in the weight room. He improved 60 pounds on his bench press to 245 and squats 425. The 3.4 GPA student comes out in his study of the game.
“I’m a real quick learner and I think I adapt well,” Wilson said. “I play guard but I can play both guard and tackle spots. I know most of the plays and can help my other guys out.”
And he shrugs off the obvious – he’s not the prototypical lineman from a size perspective.
“I always felt like I was underrated, always try to go hard, always try to prove myself, prove how talented I am, so I don’t pay attention to what others think of me,” he said. “I just go play hard and do what I can for this team.”
That confidence, McMillan said, cannot be understated.
“Part of it is the kind of kid he is, but it’s also what happens when you put everything you have into your job like he has and you see the difference from the commitment from the weight room to the field,” McMillan said. “He brings his smarts from the classroom and what he learns in the weight room and it shows. It shows because of his size, it shows every time he goes across a linebacker, it shows every time he double teams with the center or wherever the check may be.
“He’s got quite a bit upstairs and he makes it work for him. I’m excited for what’s ahead for him this year.”
Wilson looks at things collectively, like a leader should.
“Me and my guys, we may not be the college type or whatever, but we’re real strong,” he said. “We’re not scared of anybody, we’re going to compete, go against you all four quarters. We’re going to fight. We don’t like to lose and when we lose, we’ll get angry and go harder.”
With a deep and experienced run game and a second-year returning starter at quarterback, getting angry may be more on a series-by-series basis than in terms of quarters or games.
“I think with the people we got, this year could be special,” Wilson said.