Ship sail

Garrett Wilson’s Athletic Journey: From Cruise Ship Phenomenon to New York Jets First Ride

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Greetings from the Wilson family vacation, circa 2008. We are on a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, sailing to the island of St. Thomas. On board is a really cool basketball court, where Kenny Wilson and the three oldest of his four boys – ages 12 to 14 – dominate 4-on-4 games. The youngest, Garrett, 8, a future catcher wide andNew York Jets first draft pick, is on the side, dribbles on his own.

Sorry, kid, no place on the team. Not yet anyway.

The Wilsons refuse to give up the field, humiliating teams of daiquiri-hungry vacationers looking to recapture their high school glory days. Kenny, 6ft 4in, is a former Davidson star who flirted with the NBA. Sons Donovan and Cameron are future college football players; the oldest, Shea, is an excellent player in his own right. It gets so one-sided that the defeated Passengers decide the best way to defeat the Wilsons is to expand it to 5-on-5, allowing them to stack teams.

You’re in, Garrett.

“My baby,” as Kenny calls her, runs across the field, her hair blowing in the wind. He ends up with the ball at the top of the key, with no one guarding him because what adult guards an 8-year-old child 20 feet from the basket? Garrett looks at his father, asking with his eyes for permission to shoot. Kenny nods.


Lucky, right? He tries another.


Soon it was 8-0, with little Garrett doing jumpers, dribbling between his legs and drawing crowds of spectators. The SS Wilson is sailing at full speed, and suddenly the opposing players, embarrassed, are bickering among themselves. They were seasick from losing.

“It was an amazing display for an 8-year-old,” Kenny said recently. “He was like a big little folk hero on the boat for a while, because he just dominated. I was like, ‘Man, this kid is something else. It’s one of my earliest memories that Garrett was going to be something a little different.”

Coaches and scouts talk about his speed (4.38 seconds in the 40), big hands (9 7/8 inches), 36 inch vertical leap, elite body control and skill of slipping after the reception. It was physical ability that prompted the Jets to select Wilson with the 10th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, their highest-drafted wide receiver since Keyshawn Johnson became No. 1 overall in 1996.

But what makes the former Ohio State star a little different, in the words of his father, is the way he plays with an edge, a fearlessness born of growing up in a sporting family. He embraces the big moments and refuses to back down from his opponents. Early in training camp, he had a heated exchange with a defensive tackle Nathan Berger, who is 132 pounds heavier and six years older than Wilson. There were jostling. Later, coach Robert Saleh said Wilson’s response was “pretty cute”.

“I didn’t think it was cute,” Wilson said. “No matter how old you are, I don’t like being judged.”

Don’t be fooled by that baby face, Hollywood smile and polite demeanor – he’s an extremely fierce competitor, not fun to be around on game day. “Irritable” was how his father described Garrett’s pregame mood; he meant that as a compliment. Her son is so locked up that his mind is elsewhere.

In the first preseason game, Wilson beat his man on a short road and, although the quarterbackZach Wilsongoes over his head, he makes sure to let the Philadelphia Eagles‘away know it was all business.

It’s going to be a long night,’ he yelled at the Eagles … on the Jets’ second play after scrimmage.

“We grew up in a competitive household that my dad set up,” Garrett said. “It was just competitive the whole time. I feel like it worked out well for all of us.”

Cameron, 27, was a wide receiver at the University of Iowa and Ohio. Donovan, 26, played running back at Georgia Tech and Bowling Green. Shea, 28, attended Ohio and pursued a career in business. Their sister, Sydney, 20, is a student at Ohio State. They all played basketball in high school, their father’s favorite sport.

Kenny ended his career at Davidson in 1984 as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,573 points), a tally surpassed by 10 others since then – including a skinny named sniperStephen Curry. Kenny tried out for the NBA, receiving tryouts with theDenver nuggetsand Washington Bullets. A self-proclaimed “classic tweener” at 6ft 4in – a scoring forward in a guard’s body – he came awfully close to making a roster.

“I was right there. I was all around the promised land,” he said. “Having a kid like Garrett, who’s gone as far as he’s gone in sports, for me, as a father, it buries a lot of demons.”

Kenny gave up the dream of professional basketball in his mid-twenties, opting for a career in sales while remaining active in various 3-on-3 tournaments. He became a basketball dad, but not the bossy kind, said Garrett, who also credited his mother, Candace. He averaged 21 points per game in high school and received scholarship offers from two dozen schools, including Tennessee, Tulsa and Davidson, his first offer.

Garrett’s basketball game was “magnificent”, according to his father, who coyly revealed that Garrett was the only one of his kids to beat him in a one-on-one game. Here’s called an AAU Championship game in which 12-year-old Garrett carried his team to victory after losing their top scorer. Everyone was blown away by his competitive spirit, his insatiable desire to win. He loved basketball – he still does – but he told his dad that soccer was the sport he wanted to play in college.

Kenny was initially disappointed, but soon realized it was the right decision. He always taught his kids to create their own path, and deep down he knew that Garrett belonged on the football field, where he “does magic.”

There’s a bit of basketball in the way he plays wide receiver. You can see it with its stop-and-start explosiveness and spatial awareness. A three-step release at the line of scrimmage, he said, is equivalent to executing a crossover dribble.

“The main thing is the rebounds,” he said. “I’ve always been a guard who was a good rebounder. I feel like that translates to getting 50-50 balls – the high ball. I feel like I owe a lot to basketball at my football ability.”

After a stellar career at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, the same school that produced Carolina Panthers strategist Mayfield Baker, Wilson went to Ohio State. (He actually spent the first part of his childhood in Columbus, Ohio.) It was a difficult transition. As a freshman, he found himself in a reception room with three future NFL draft picks – KJ Hill Jr.., Chris Olave and jameson williamswho was later transferred to Alabama.

The competition in that position and the extraordinary demands of playing for a powerhouse like Ohio State “broke him a little bit,” according to his father. Wilson had reached a turning point in his career. He did a lot of introspection, reflecting on his father’s advice: “Greatness is lonely.”

Wilson pushed and improved every season, finishing with 70 receptions, 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 11 games in 2021. He went to the draft after his junior year and was the No. Jets. Saleh raves about his exceptional body control and “violent hands”. Some receivers rely on body capture; Wilson snatches passes through the air with quick hands.

“I mean, he jumps off the movie,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “In person the way he can crumble and explode from the cuts, it’s amazing how [he can] ride and retrieve a ball when standing still or when going full speed. He can just cut a penny, change and go up in the air and get balls. »

Yet the transition has not been seamless. The coaches want Wilson to be more physical against the media coverage and he needs to reduce the drops. In training camp, he dropped several passes, but not in bunches. Hey, it happens. One year ago, Cincinnati Bengals beginner Ja’Marr Chase was a drop machine in camp and ended up winning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Wilson certainly has a tendency to put himself down, but he tries to go through this process to eliminate stress.

“My quarterbacks have to trust me,” he said.

Wilson expects to contribute immediately as the fourth receiver in a four-man rotation, behind Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios. Again, he’s the newbie, just like he was on that Caribbean cruise ship all those years ago.

He smiled.

“That’s probably my earliest memory of being athletic and competitive with my brothers,” he said. “We dominated. I remember I used to drive the older guys crazy that I would score against them. They humbled themselves very quickly. I held on. I knew my role at that age and played it well .”

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