When glancing at his current journey in college football, Mississippi State's Brandon Wilson can't help but exhibit a big smile. And that is totally understandable considering how far Wilson has come on the gridiron.
Nearly four years ago, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native walked on at MSU following a solid prep career at Tuscaloosa Northridge High School. He first worked at fullback with the Bulldogs but then quickly moved to linebacker.
After playing a big part on special teams and then moving into the linebacker rotation last year, the redshirt junior recently concluded spring drills in the No. 1 spot at middle linebacker.
"It's okay to pat yourself on the back a little bit, especially if you are a walkon and able to come in and contribute at Mississippi State, who will be a contender in the SEC next year," said Wilson. "But I have to keep going further on down the road and need to constantly get better. So I am not constantly patting myself on the back."
Wilson and his linebacker mates got their first taste of playing for a new position coach this spring. In the offseason, last year's linebacker boss Manny Diaz moved on to Texas and Geoff Collins joined the MSU staff.
"We are not quite there yet but we are consistently working our butts off," said Wilson. "Coach Collins is an awesome guy and an awesome teacher. There is no doubt why he is the best at coaching linebackers. Every team he has been at - Alabama, Georgia Tech, Central Florida and down there at Florida International - his linebackers have all gotten all-conference recognition. So we just have to constantly listen to him and believe he's going to get us there."
Of course, this spring also produced a different scene and new faces high up on the depth chart concerning the MSU linebackers. Gone were the likes of Chris White and K.J. Wright as well as 2010 starter Emmanuel Gatling. But MSU ended the spring with notions that this position had better depth than a year ago.
"As the spring progressed, it went well," said the 6-foot and 235-pound Wilson. "Coach Collins has us all working together well and we are trying to be the best linebackers in the SEC. And I believe with our hard work we can reach that goal."
Naturally, a lot of eyes were on Wilson this spring as he stepped into White's old spot at middle linebacker. Last year, Wilson served as White's primary backup and finished the season with 17 tackles.
Wilson is the first to admit he doesn't possess the speed displayed by White the past two seasons. But as noted by his coaches, he is one of the best technicians on the team.
"I don't worry about all of that," said Wilson of trying to replace White. "Coach Collins and Coach (Chris) Wilson always tell us that technique takes care of everything. So I try to improve my techniques every day on the field and in the film room. Honestly, I am not worried about the pressure. I am just focused on getting myself, the linebackers and the entire team better with our techniques."
Battling Wilson at the mike spot this spring was senior Jamie Jones and redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna, and both also had their good moments this spring. In fact, Bohanna collected a pair of sacks in the Maroon and White spring game.
"Oh, it is going well and it's always good to have competition," said Wilson. "That is how you continue to improve yourself and we continue to push each other. That helps us get better as a group."
And later this summer, even more competition will be added to Wilson's position. A few weeks ago, Brandon Maye signed with Mississippi State and will soon be transferring from Clemson. As a former starter at Clemson, Maye will only add more talent to State's depth at linebacker.
Also now stepping into a leadership role, Wilson said it was the team's job to welcome Maye with open arms and make the situation a positive one for all involved.
"He played three years in the ACC and that is a good conference, also," said Wilson. "We know he can come into our linebacker corps and help us right away. It is all about taking him in and embracing what he can bring us to help us get to Atlanta. And that is all our common goal and that is the top trait as a leader. The whole team's common goal is to get to Atlanta. If Brandon can help us get there, then that is a great person to add to this program."