MANCHESTER, N.H. – Farmington High School. Bridgton Academy. Division II Saint Anselm College.
National Football League?
Probably not the prototypical path to the NFL, but for Saint Anselm senior WR Marc Wilson (Farmington, Conn.), it's the one that might just work out.
Wilson put together a stellar career for the Hawks in 37 career games over four years. Wilson will leave the Hilltop as the program's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,149), receptions (211), touchdown receptions (17), all-purpose yards (5,367), total touchdowns (30), total points (184), kick return yards (1,800) and kick return touchdowns (2). Wilson also ranks third in rushing yards (1,626) and fourth in both rushing touchdowns (11) and total offense (2,629).
After that performance in which he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and returned kicks, Wilson now finds himself on the doorstep of the NFL, which might even come as a bit of a surprise to himself.
"I never thought I was going to have this opportunity," Wilson said. "It didn't cross my mind until my junior year [at Saint Anselm].
Wilson began to show his multiple talents at Farmington (Conn.) High School, where he played safety on the defensive side of the ball all four years and was a wide receiver junior year, as well as quarterback his senior year.
Wilson put together a solid tenure at Farmington, but the school didn't do much to help him get recruited so he talked with his father, Glen, and the rest of his family about doing a post-graduate year to hopefully help earn a football scholarship at the Division I level.
Bridgton (Maine) Academy ended up feeling like the best fit for Wilson and his family. Wilson, who also played lacrosse, was not recruited to play football at Bridgton and when he originally joined the team, the staff thought he was just there to play lacrosse.
While Wilson ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.48) at Bridgton, it took him awhile to prove himself through training camp. Wilson eventually broke camp as a cornerback, as Bridgton had already recruited wide receivers, including Southern Connecticut State University's Willie Epps.
At the beginning of the season, Bridgton head football coach Rick Marcella was talking about Wilson playing at the Division I level. Wilson was hoping the University of Connecticut would take a look at him, but he never heard anything, despite starting all nine games and having a good year.
At that point, Wilson began looking at FCS (formerly Division I-AA) programs such as the University of New Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Rhode Island and Hofstra University. Wilson received some interest, but at more of a walk-on level. He was told by numerous coaches that if he was accepted to the school, they would love to have him on the team.
Wilson wanted more, however, mainly a scholarship. Things changed in April when current Saint Anselm football head coach, Patrick Murphy, arrived in Manchester. Murphy's first recruiting trip was to Bridgton Academy, where they opened his eyes to Wilson.
Wilson and his family had narrowed the field of potential suitors down to Saint Anselm and FCS school, Central Connecticut State University, where they had the major Wilson was interested in. Because of that, the head coach at Central thought Wilson was a lock to attend and did not recruit him as hard as Murphy did. Wilson ultimately chose the Hawks, as he and his dad felt most comfortable at Saint Anselm.
"Out of Bridgton, I was just trying to get a free education somewhere and play football," Wilson said. "I wanted to play at the Division I level and get a scholarship, but as it got later and other teammates were getting DI offers, I was more open-minded."
That open-mindedness landed him at Saint Anselm, where he put up unbelievable numbers for four seasons and now is looking at a chance to play at the next level.
"I know there's nowhere else in the country I could have gone and been this productive," Wilson said. "I wasn't redshirted – that was huge – and I got a chance to play right away. I owe a lot of credit to Coach Murphy. He saw a player like me and took a chance."
Murphy is glad he took that chance.
"Look at his production – the numbers that he's produced all through a rebuilding process," Murphy said. "He had no help his freshman year and then we were able to put some pieces around him as time went on. But he's been public enemy No. 1 for every team we've played and you look at his numbers for yards, points, etc. – it's just ridiculous."
Murphy also has noticed the impact Wilson's four years have had on the rest of the program.
"To have someone have a chance that [Wilson's] having right now – going to pro days and participating in regional combines – is very good," Murphy said. "People are noticing the program. Just to have 28 NFL teams on campus – several multiple times – is huge. Now when we're recruiting, we're finding kids that we shouldn't really be finding, as far as their production levels. It gives our guys exposure. It's good."
Wilson was also quick to point out that there are other players, who are enjoying success.
"I'm not the only good player on the team," Wilson said. "Because we haven't been doing so well, we're overlooked."
Wilson credits everything he learned about the game prior to attending Bridgton to his dad, his uncle, Greg, who bounced around with a couple of AFL teams and has a coaching background, and his brother, Mike, who is four years older and helped coach him in high school.
My uncle always believed," Wilson said. "He always said, 'One of these days you're going to have an NFL uniform on.' To be honest, it wasn't until the Carolina Panthers showed up last summer, that I really started to believe."
Nearly every team from the NFL has been to campus to see Wilson, including the Arizona Cardinals, who have been in four or five times, and the New England Patriots. The Panthers were the first to take a look, but it did not go quite how Wilson pictured it.
"The whole thing was surreal," Wilson said. "[Quarterback Mike] Pierce wasn't there and [the Panthers' scout] didn't talk to me at all. They just stood there with a clipboard and wrote some notes."
After assuming the Panthers didn't like him, the Indianapolis Colts came in and Wilson sat and talked to the scout after practice.
"That's when I kind of decided, 'Who cares what they think. I'm just going to go play ball. If they want to talk to me, they talk to me,'" Wilson said. "I didn't let it get caught up in my mind, because you still have to practice."
Much like when the Panthers first showed up on campus, Wilson had another, "Ah-ha!" moment when the Atlanta Falcons arrived on the Hilltop during midseason. The Falcons' scout, Robinson Payne, told Wilson he was good enough athletically, as well as speed- and strength-wise, to make the NFL.
"It's good knowing those kinds of things because a lot of people doubted if I could make it," Wilson said. "You're from the Division II level, so [the scouts] don't tell you, but you can tell with the questions that they ask you, they're kind of looking down at you because of the competition you're playing against."
While the encouragement boosted his confidence, it did not make Wilson go after what he wanted any harder.
"You've got enough motivation in front of you," Wilson said. "It's just nice to know where you stand. Playing in the NFL is already enough motivation."
Payne, the Falcons' scout, spoke about Wilson's chances of making it in the league.
"I went in there and looked at him pretty thoroughly," Payne said. "I think there were some bright spots. I think what you're going to find is he's got a chance to make it as a free agent – but I've been wrong before. And I think everybody was wrong up there on Victor Cruz..."
Of course, Victor Cruz, is the wide receiver out of UMass, who signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 NFL Draft. Cruz, who also attended Bridgton Academy, set a franchise record for receiving yards (1,536) this past season en route to being named an AP All-Pro Second Team selection as he helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI.
Wilson said he sees a lot of himself in both Cruz and Colts' wide receiver, Pierre Garcon. "I'm fast – a 4.4 type guy. They play on and off the line, which is something I think I can do. They have the speed to breakaway.
"I was watching [Cruz] earlier in the year and in a year he's progressed into a great route runner," Wilson said. "I see myself just continuing to get better at the next level like that and that's something you need to sell."
Wilson is fine with following the path Cruz took to the NFL.
"Late round draft pick would be great, but I'm really not sitting here thinking I'm going to get drafted, getting credit cards and maxing them out," Wilson said. "If I end up going the undrafted free agent route, that's not really discouraging to me."
In addition to Cruz and Garcon, Wilson also takes a lot of his inspiration from a pair of Patriots' wide receivers.
"I got 100 percent of my inspiration from Wes Welker," Wilson said. "Then when [the Patriots] got Julian Edelman – that's just me right there, he played QB in college…
"In the AFC Championship game against the Ravens, [Edelman] got something like 26 snaps on offense and 26 on defense – that's me," Wilson continued. "If Julian Edelman can do that, I can do that. I played all those positions before – he never had."
Murphy agrees. "Speed, tough as nails, his ability to do multiple tasks on the football field and do them well – I think he's definitely worth a shot. Hopefully he'll get into a camp and sell himself once he's there.
Wilson has already begun to show teams what he can do. Wilson attended an NFL Regional Combine at the Atlantic Health Jets practice facility Feb. 25. There were about five NFL scouts present at the New York Jets' practice facility and out of 60 wide receivers, Wilson was one of two asked to stay and run through extra drills.
If he performed well enough, Wilson will get invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine, which is being held in Detroit the last two days of March.
Wilson is most excited about the Boston College Pro Day in March, which Murphy was able to get him into. He is also entertaining the idea of attending UConn and UMass pro days next month.
"It's just hysterical," Wilson said. "These guys didn't want me five years ago and now I'm going to show up to their pro day and I plan on just killing it. I feel real confident going into these combines."
That's because aside from his natural skill, Wilson has been driving down to Woburn, Mass., four days a week – on top of taking five courses at Saint Anselm – to work with a combine group at Body by Boyle, which is run by world-renowned strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle.
On top of getting stronger and faster, Wilson hopes the time he is putting in will pay off in another area.
"I'm just going to focus – no matter what happens – on staying healthy and just trying to play these next five years," Wilson said.
Doubt him if you want, but Wilson has already proven he can take the road less traveled and succeed. And maybe the key isn't going to the top Division I schools in the country, but merely keeping an open mind.
"It was the hardest road," Wilson said. "But, really, it was just letting things happen that came my way."