Former Pirate grateful for NFL opportunity|C.J. Wilson’s becoming a major playmaker

Published 7:22 pm Saturday, January 15, 2011

Staff Writer

Beaufort County’s son and former East Carolina University defensive end C.J. Wilson says playing at the next level in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers is tougher than he thought — and everything he had hoped for and more.
Wilson, a native of Belhaven and a former Northside High School football star, said he never thought he would be drafted by an NFL team, much less be the first-ever ECU player to be drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
“I didn’t think I had a chance to play professional football,” Wilson said. “But after a while, when I was recruited by East Carolina, I thought maybe I could go all the way with this. So, I just give all the honor and glory to God for giving me the opportunity to be here amongst the greatest of teams in the NFL.”
Wilson said the toughest challenge he faced after getting drafted by the Packers was not knowing if he would make the team or not.
“The toughest challenge when I was drafted was coming here and making a name for myself,” he said. “Just because you’re drafted doesn’t mean you make the team. The biggest challenge was learning the system, learning all the new plays and working my way up to try and make the team.”
Wilson attributes his success as a team leader while at ECU to those around him because it made him want to be a better competitor in the NFL.
“Oh yes, definitely. It’s a process,” Wilson said. “I made some good plays at East Carolina and became a leader, but when you get to the NFL, it makes you stay humble. I worked my way up when I was at East Carolina, and I’ll try to do the same thing here and just keep working hard every day.”
Wilson said the biggest difference between college and the NFL is the playbook.
“There are a lot of plays,” he said. “But I would say the biggest thing that’s different from college to the NFL is mental.”
Wilson said that in college he would be at practice for about two to three hours, whereas with the Green Bay Packers, he’s up at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights, then goes to practice and is finally done with his day by 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s long days,” he said. “But it’s about loving your job. I love football. I love being here.”
When asked about camaraderie and playing against former ECU teammates, Wilson said when they meet on the field, they still find themselves cheering each other on. That happened this season when the Green Bay Packers played the New York Giants, a team for which Wilson’s former ECU teammate and friend Matt Dodge is the punter.
“It’s a great feeling to see another one of my (college) teammates,” Wilson said of Dodge. “There’s always that camaraderie. I have another one of my Pirate teammates here (in Green Bay) as well, Jay Ross. It’s a good feeling, and we wish each other well because this is our dream, to play in the NFL.”
Wilson’s first NFL sack was against Dallas Cowboys quarterback John Kitna, which he said was awesome.
“It was a great feeling!” Wilson said with a laugh. “To get any sack in this league is pretty tough, and that was a good honor for me and a great start to my career. It was one of my goals, to get a sack for my rookie year because I didn’t think I would play all this much. But I thank God for that.”
He said the most difficult part about being a rookie in the NFL is developing his role as a player on the team, “Wherever it may be.”
Wilson said this season has been a good one, so far, and he wants to continue to help the team.
“It’s going good, but better than I expected,” he said. “I expected to come here and help the team out, and to get in there and play and prove that I was worth the draft pick and to help this team more in the future.”
Wilson said he maintains a positive attitude no matter what, especially when the game is on the line.
“You just have to keep going,” he said. “It’s a game that could either make you break you. Like coach says, at first it’s going to be tough but you just have to keep going and eventually fight through.”
Wilson attributes his family and his faith in God as the two key factors that keep him grounded.
“My mom and dad talked to me every day and always told me to keep God first and just keep praying,” he said. “My family has always been behind me and I thank them for everything they have done for me.
“I can’t thank them enough for the way they raised me. I thank my mom and dad, and my brothers and sisters for that.”
Wilson believes his greatest strengths on the field are his passion for the game and determination to perform well while playing the game he loves. Off the field, he says it’s his personality.
“You have to love this game to be here,” he said. “And I’m driven every day to be the best. And I believe I have a good personality because I was raised right, and I thank God for that.”
Wilson said that what he misses about ECU and Greenville are his teammates and friends he’s made over the years he spent there.
“We were together a lot over the years,” he said. “I miss my teammates and coaches. And if I wasn’t playing professional football, I would probably be coaching. I would coach high-school football.”
With 18 tackles and one sack under his professional belt, Wilson’s off to a good start. In fact, the Green Bay Packers’ roster status for Wilson doesn’t say, “Stand By.” It says, “Active.”
Wilson is expected to play tonight when the Packers take on the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome at 8 p.m. on FOX.