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January 11, 2013

Wilson flipped out versus the Saints

By: Jimmy Robertson

The former Tech tailback accomplished something never done before in the NFL – and celebrated by doing backflips

Courtesy of AP Images

David Wilson has long been known for his ability to do backflips, once doing eight in a row at a Virginia Tech football media day.

After watching his performance on Dec. 9, football fans throughout the nation were the ones flipping out.

Wilson, a former Virginia Tech tailback who decided to forgo his final season of college eligibility and enter the NFL Draft last spring, became a part of NFL history following his performance against the New Orleans Saints. He became the first player in the world’s best football league to record at least 200 kick return yards and 100 yards rushing in the same game.

Playing mostly because of an injury to starter Ahmad Bradshaw, Wilson, a native of Danville, Va., returned four kickoffs for 227 yards and a touchdown, and he carried the ball 13 times for 100 yards and two scores in the New York Giants’ 52-27 victory over the Saints. Elias Sports Bureau, widely considered the world’s foremost sports statisticians and historians, confirmed the rookie’s record via Twitter on Dec. 12.

“It (his performance) was an eye opener to me and to other people around me,” Wilson said in a phone interview four days after the game. “My teammates and coaches were proud of me.

“I expected success in the future. I knew I could come in and have some success on special teams, and I knew I could be productive on offense if given the opportunity. But to set records … that’s a lot to take in.”

Wilson, who was the Giants’ primary kickoff returner all season, returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Saints. He also returned kicks for 58, 52 and 20 yards. On the ground, he scored on runs of 6 yards and 52 yards – his season long.

He finished the game with a franchise-record 327 total yards. He also became the first Giants player since 1948 to have a kickoff return for a touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the same game.

The game marked a stark contrast to his NFL debut when he fumbled on his second carry in a primetime game against the Dallas Cowboys. He did not carry the ball more than seven times in any game leading up to the New Orleans game, as he had to win back the trust of the Giants coaching staff, and in particular, Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin, instead, relied on two more experienced backs in Bradshaw and journeyman Andre Brown.

“That was real tough,” Wilson said of the reduced workload. “I didn’t want my role as an offensive player tarnished after one play. But I kept working hard, and I knew my opportunity would come. It might have been the next game or the next year, but I knew it would come.”

Coughlin’s decision not to play Wilson extensively for a good chunk of the season after the fumble only served to motivate Wilson. In fact, Wilson spoke highly of his coach and probably for one big reason – it’s hard to be critical of a two-time Super Bowl winning head coach.

Coughlin guided the Giants to Super Bowl wins in 2007 and then last season. Following that season, he and other Giants personnel officials agreed to take Wilson in the first round of the NFL Draft, even though the team had a very good running back in Bradshaw.

“I like him,” Wilson said of Coughlin. “He’s a professional coach. He’s understanding, but he’s got a set way that he wants things done. He’s taken teams to Super Bowls, and you can’t ignore that. The players trust what he’s doing, and they should.”

Wilson attracted national attention not just for his exploits on the field, but also for his celebratory antics. Following each of his touchdowns, he performed a backflip – something of relative ease for him.

But the backflips created a mini-firestorm of sorts, as several of his teammates encouraged him to find a more grounded way to celebrate. Media outlets ran with it, and his backflips became somewhat of a national story. Wilson agreed to discontinue his aerial antics, though he did one after scoring a touchdown against Baltimore on Dec. 23.

“I don’t want to ruffle feathers,” he said. “I’m surprised that it became such a big story. For me, it’s just a regular thing. I’ve been doing backflips since I was 3. It’s easier for me to do a backflip than to dance.”

According to Wilson, his teammates helped him with the transition to professional football and to playing under Coughlin, keeping him positive even though he was the third-team guy for much of the first part of the season. He picked up a few more carries when Brown went down with a broken leg suffered in week 12, and then he saw more action because of Bradshaw’s knee injury.

His teammates also helped him adjust to life off the field, where New York City presents many temptations for a young man with lots of money. He signed a four-year deal worth $6.684 million shortly after being drafted by the Giants, with a signing bonus of $3.3 million.

“A lot of the veterans have helped me,” Wilson said. “Guys like Ahmad (Bradshaw), Hakeem Nicks, Corey Webster, Antrel Rolle … I have a good support system in place.”

He has enjoyed his time in the New York City metropolitan area. He possesses the type of magnetic personality that attracts media attention and fans’ idolatry, and he’s always enjoyed the bright lights and the big stage. Many of his best games at Tech came in the Hokies’ biggest games.

But he also grew up in Danville, a relatively small town, and he spent his college days in Blacksburg. So he knows quite a bit about that type of lifestyle as well, one that he liked.

“I’ve enjoyed it here,” Wilson said of New York. “There’s always something to do. But sometimes, I miss the quiet.”

That said, he has no regrets. Sure, he misses his former Tech teammates and coaches. But he finds himself keeping in contact with a bunch of them. Of course, most of them called him after his record-setting game.

“I’m really glad a lot of them reached out,” he said. “It’s good to hear from people who have watched me and supported me for a long time.

“I miss it there a little bit. But I’m living my dream. This is what I’ve dreamed about since I was 8 years old. You’ve got to move on at some point, and I did that and got drafted by a Super Bowl team. Now I’m getting an opportunity to play quite a bit. So I think I’ve made all the right decisions.”

Wilson got the start in the Giants’ game at Atlanta on Dec. 16 – the first start of his career. He finished with 55 yards rushing on 13 carries, though the Giants got shut out. He rushed for 358 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

Tech fans know well of Wilson’s limitless potential. So they believe that start won’t be the last of Wilson’s career.

They also know of Wilson’s engaging personality – and they believe those backflips won’t be the last of his career either.