Rock Island, Illinois, was the place where Grayson Wilson fulfilled a dream that had taken him nearly three years to accomplish.
The former McFarland High School athlete made his first start for the Carroll University football team against host Augustana. Wilson completed six total tackles at defensive back, but his Pioneers lost the game 34-6.
With three years of college football in the books, Wilson is hoping to be a full-time starter when he begins his senior season. The Pioneers ended the 2019 campaign with an overall record of 2-8 and 1-8 in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW).
“I think I gained a lot of respect especially from last year being a backup and playing on all special teams,” Wilson said.
Carroll will also begin 2020 with a new head coach after Mark Krzykowski was promoted to the college’s assistant athletic director. That means everyone will be starting with a clean slate, and that may lead to more playing opportunities for Wilson.
Wilson was recruited by the Pioneers after finishing his senior season at McFarland with 540 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, and 30 total tackles with one sack and two interceptions.
He has fond memories of playing for head coach Paul Ackley and the assistants who helped mold him into a college athlete. He said all were positive role models and in some cases, father figures.
“I was very blessed with these coaches. Once I got into college, I figured out how much I’ve taken from them,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s final high school game was played October 13, 2016, when the Spartans defeated Beloit Turner 34-6. Wilson rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in that contest.
“I stayed on the field an hour or two hours after the game talking to people. I didn’t want to leave the field,” Wilson said. “I wanted to keep playing with my best friends.”
His first game as a freshman at Carroll made Wilson realize he was no longer playing against high school kids. He learned this lesson playing special teams on a kickoff against Carthage.
“I go head to head with their starting fullback. He drove me back quite a few yards,” Wilson said. “I remember coming back to the sideline thinking, ‘These guys are a lot bigger.’”
Wilson put some more muscle on his 6-foot frame and it’s all paid off. Along with his starting assignment in 2019 against Augustana, Wilson had six solo tackles against Wheaton.
He said guidance provided by his college coaches has helped develop his football skills.
“It’s a lot of different moving parts and game planning. I learned a lot more about the game than I thought I already knew in high school,” Wilson said. “The coaches taught me it is more of a mental game than a physical game. If you are in the right spot mentally, your physical nature will take over eventually.”
Wilson is currently majoring in business administration and marketing with hopes of entering hotel management. His father owns three hotels in the Madison area.
“When I was younger, my father was very passionate about it,” Wilson said. “I don’t think hotels will go out of style. I have a lot of good ideas on how to make hotel operations go a lot smoother and quicker.”
He also tries to watch McFarland High School football games on YouTube, and communicates once a week with former Spartan teammate Tyler Johnson, who plays football at NCAA Division 2 Mankato State in Minnesota.
The Mavericks have been a football powerhouse for two seasons, losing in the championship playoff game last December to West Florida.
“He definitely gives me a lot of advice, because he is on one of the best football teams in the country,” Wilson said. “Anything he tells me, I take it to heart and instill that in my game.”