Nobody, though, wants them to have to come by it the way he did. Wilson, a redshirt freshmanwide receiver for the No. 11 Bulldogs, grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he learned early to take a hit.
As a 5-year-old, Wilson watched his mother’s boyfriend hit her in the head with a fire extinguisher. Lisa Wilson has remained a big part of her son’s life, but nothing has been the same since. Wilson moved out after the incident and lived with an aunt and then his grandmother before coming to Athens.
“After that, she didn’t want us to see how she was struggling,” Wilson said. “She goes off, her mind. She’s in bad health, but I don’t look at it like that. She’s my stronghold. She’s being strong for me and for herself and she’s a great supporter.”
The Bulldogs (1-0) take on South Carolina (1-0) Saturday in Sanford Stadium (5:45 p.m., ESPN2).
Wilson -- now a parent himself, of 7-month-old Tony Wilson Jr. – was the middle brother of a trio that filled statistics sheets and newspaper headlines for years at Mainland High School. Tony waited his turn to start at tailback behind older brother Vince and then kept the spot warm for younger brother Kenny.
Each brother had major league talent, but Vince’s career washed out prematurely at North Carolina and Kenny has yet to enroll in college. (He’s trying to get into a junior college next semester, Tony said.)
“All his brothers were top-of-the-line athletes coming out of Daytona Beach,” said Kelin Johnson, anothe r former Mainland standout. “That’s the thing I’m so proud of Tony because heactually has not fallen into the trap of the stereotypes of what everybody thinks his family is going to become.”
He almost did, though. Wilson, a first-team all-state player and 200-meter state champion in Florida, came to Georgia expecting to play immediately but was quickly discouraged by a shoulder injury. His weight ballooned and his spirit dove.
“I kind of shut my body down,” he said. “My mind-set wasn’t right. My mind was set on redshirting and my attitude was, ‘Just forget it, I’m going to redshirt, wait till next year to get better.’”
Wilson came to Georgia weighing 190 pounds but had grown to 220 at one point last season.
“My back was hurting every day,” he said. “I’d run about one route and be gassed the rest of the day.”
He could feel himself slipping, sliding closer toward home, like his brothers, like so many of his former Mainland teammates. (Three of Johnson’s teammates at Mainland have died in the last three months, he said.) He almost chucked it, packed his bags and transferred to a school where could be closer to his son, he said.
“Then I had to evaluate myself,” he said. “My son probably later on in life is going to thank me for staying up here and getting that degree. I’ve got to take care of my little son. He’s an innocent child. I brought him into this world so I have to take care of him. That’s what pushed me to get back on track even in the classroom.”
Wilson threw himself into Georgia’s mat drills and offseason workout program like a man whose window was closing, which his was.
“When you have some tough times growing up, you are more determined to seize the opportunity.Some times you’re hungry,” wide receivers coach John Eason said. “This may be the only chance you have to get some recognition and a college degree and the other things that may come about. I think he realizes that, and he wants to take advantage of that.”
Wilson came from the back of the depth chart to the front of the conversation during preseason practices and started against Oklahoma State, catching three passes for 27 yards.
He put himself in position to play by contrasting his mild-mannered appearance -- a friendly face and square, studious glasses -- with a willingness to block Georgia’s coaches hadn’t seen from a wide receiver in a while.
“You don’t see too many receivers who want to stick their nose in their and block,” Wilson said. “That’s what I love; I like contact. I don’t have a problem doing it. When I get a chance to hit DB or a d-end or something, I’m going to do it because when they get a chance, they’re going to do it to me.”
Wilson’s swagger, which had been lost last year, showed back up early in fall camp when he got into a practice fight with teammate Ramarcus Brown.
“He came in here talking a big game,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “That’s the way he is, and I love it. He’s a competitor. He’s a tough guy, and you knew he was going to be able to back his words up sooner rather than later.”
Actually, even those closest to Johnson weren’t 100 percent sure of that.
“He’s had a lot going on in his life personally, but he took that on the football field and made that a positive thing,” Johnson said. “I’m real proud of him. Everybody back home is always asking me, ‘How’s he doing? How’s he doing?’ I’m like, ‘You guys have got to see Tony. He’s turned it on to a whole ’nother level this year.’ I didn’t know if he was going to be able to do it, but he’s done it."