OUT OF THE SHADOW
There may have been a legion of San Francisco 49er fans with fire in their eyes the day All-Pro receiver -- and All-World hot dog -- Terrell Owens left Frisco for the Philadelphia Eagles. Cedrick Wilson was not a part of that legion.
A fourth-year wide receiver with the Niners, Wilson finds himself in position to fill one of the most sizable voids in the NFL this season. And while he may not stuff a Sharpie in his sock or get in line with 49er cheerleaders, this graduate of Melrose High is on his way to brighter lights as a professional football player.
ÒIÕm the leader of the receiving corps right now,Ó said Wilson midway through San FranciscoÕs preseason schedule. ÒIÕm the most experienced guy, having been in this system four years now. But I still feel like a kid every time I step up to run a route or throw a block.Ó
Over his first three seasons, WilsonÕs receiving figures were rather pedestrian (50 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns). HeÕs been a solid special teamer, having averaged 21.8 yards on 53 kickoff returns. Despite relatively small size (5Õ10, 180 pounds), WilsonÕs quickness and elusiveness on the gridiron has been evident since the Knoxville News-Sentinel
rated him the second-best player in Tennessee as a senior quarterback at Melrose. Since arriving on the University of Tennessee campus in the fall of 1997, though, wide receiver has been WilsonÕs primary track. (Wilson ranks third alltime at Wide Receiver U in receptions with 159, and fourth in receiving yardage with 2,137.) And the 25-year-old Memphian sees the 2004 season as his opportunity to leap atop the NinersÕ receiving depth chart.
ÒWhen I arrived three years ago,Ó reflects Wilson, Òthe game was faster, more mental [than college], and I needed the experience that IÕve been able to get, sitting behind Terrell Owens, Tai Streets, and J.J. Stokes. IÕve had an opportunity to see how those guys prepare for the game, to take notes, and prepare my body for the punishment that a receiver in the NFL will take.Ó
And what kind of tutor was Owens? ÒOur game is totally different,Ó says Wilson. ÒTerrell is physical, and I try to out-quick defensive backs, to get out of my breaks before they can react. One thing I did learn from him is how to play the game fast and physical.Ó
The challenge ahead for Wilson will be getting open among head-hunting defensive backs long enough for a new 49er quarterback -- either Tim Rattay or Ken Dorsey -- to find him. (Wilson caught seven passes for 94 yards in the Niners opener, then sat out SundayÕs game in New Orleans with a hamstring injury.) Once the ball is in his hands, Wilson has mastered that skill of Òout-quicking.Ó Last November against St. Louis, Wilson returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Three days later he was named NFC special teams Player of the Week.
WilsonÕs entire family -- including two younger brothers and two younger sisters -- still live in Memphis, and Cedrick admits this has been the toughest aspect of his burgeoning NFL career on the west coast. (His younger brother, Ellix, is a freshman safety at UT.) As a measure of how seriously he takes his family, consider Cedrick gained full custody of his 8-year-old son, Cedrick Jr., in July 2003. He now shares a condo in Santa Clara with ÒLittle Ced,Ó his biggest fan . . . and at times, his biggest critic. ÒWe watch my film together,Ó chuckles Wilson, Òand heÕs always telling me things I could do better. HeÕs like, ïDad, I wouldÕve took that guy deep!Õ
ÒIÕve had to step up to the plate [as a father], and really manage my time and discipline myself. There are a lot of wild things that guys in my place can do. IÕve really dedicated myself to [my son]. He looks up to me at all times, so I try and set an example for him.
ÒEducation is something IÕm really stressing to my son,Ó continues Wilson. ÒI tell him that football is a privilege. I keep him in school year-round, because he can never get too much education.Ó
If thereÕs been a down side to the privilege of playing pro football for Wilson, itÕs been in the 49ersÕ diminishing win total each season heÕs been in uniform. After a 12-4 campaign his rookie year, San Francisco finished 10-6 in 2002, and then missed the playoffs last year with a 7-9 mark. TheyÕve dropped their first two games in 2004. Having won a national title with the 1998 Volunteers, the losing is hard for Wilson to tolerate.
ÒLosing is always tough,Ó he says. ÒI didnÕt lose in little league, in high school, or college. Last year was difficult for us, we suffered a lot of injuries. But this is a new year, and I think weÕre looking excellent. WeÕll definitely surprise people. Whether or not weÕre a playoff team, I canÕt say for sure. Our goal is the Super Bowl . . . but weÕll definitely surprise people.Ó