Buffalo Bills Training Camp: The converted wide receiver started in nine games last year on defense.
George Wilson always knew he would find the end zone in an NFL game one day.
So when the free safety returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown against Dallas last season, he wasn’t surprised.
However, up until training camp last year, Wilson — who entered the league as a wide receiver — thought he would be the quarterback’s intended target. He was converted to defense last offseason and thanks to a rash of injuries, was able to quickly gain on-field experience at his new position.
Wilson played in a career-high 12 games with nine starts last season, making two interceptions and 37 tackles. He enters this season behind Ko Simpson on the depth chart.
“It’s night and day from last year,” Wilson said after Saturday’s second session of training camp at St. John Fisher. “Having a year of playing experience allows you to recognize things better. I can be more assertive and aggressive in how I play. I feel like I can be an impact player week in and week out with this team.”
Wilson’s first career start came against the Cowboys in that memorable Monday night game last October, where a 53-yard field goal gave Dallas the win as time expired.
Wilson was one of the Bills bright spots, recording six tackles along with the touchdown.
Three games later, he had a career-high eight tackles in a win over Cincinnati. Wilson scored his second career touchdown against Miami in Week 14 returning a fumble 20 yards.
“For his first opportunity playing safety, he was really solid for us,” said Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos. “He’s a good athlete and works hard to make himself better.”
Even though he won’t be a starter to begin this season, Wilson is a proven player, something the Bills lacked on defense throughout last season.
“It’s still training camp, so everything is still open for competition,” Catavolos said. “We feel very comfortable with George’s progress, so we feel very good about things (at free safety).”
Wilson was one of many new players to earn starting last year spots as the team struggled with injuries. Simpson, Jason Webster and Kiwaukee Thomas were among the defensive backs that missed time due to injury.
That injury bug even caught up with Wilson, who missed the final three games of last season after being placed on injured reserve.
Wilson faced an up-hill climb early in his career. He was undrafted out of Arkansas in 2004 and signed with Lions as a free agent in April.
He landed with the Bills practice squad that October and then made the 53-man roster in 2005, playing in three games primarily on special teams.
Wilson spent the first 15 games of 2006 on the practice squad. He was promoted to the roster for the final game but was inactive.
“I knew that if I worked hard and took advantage of every opportunity that eventually I would get that break,” Wilson said. “You have to work at it every day. It took me three years to get my opportunity, and some people may have given up. I had frustrating times along the way, but never lost sight of where I was going.”
Off the field, Wilson is active in several community service projects. He made appearances and spoke to elementary schools in Buffalo last year and is involved in Fayetteville’s Community Outreach Project, spending time speaking and reading at elementary schools.
Wilson also returns to his hometown of Paducah to talk to children about his life experiences.
“I talk to (children) about being accountable for their own actions and not letting other people influence their decision,” Wilson said. “I want them to use their talents, and do what makes them happy.”
On the field, Wilson is helping some of the Bills younger defensive backs get comfortable with the pressures of playing in the NFL.
“George is one of the most inspirational guys on this team,” said cornerback Reggie Corner, the Bills’ fourth-round draft choice in last April’s draft. “Anything or any play I don’t know, I look to George. He is everything you want in a player.”
Bryan Sullivan is covering the Bills training camp for Messenger Post Newspapers. He can be reached at (585) 394-0770 ext. 273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.