Sometimes, players in a recruiting class come out of nowhere to make an impact early in their careers. Other times, it's exactly the players that were expected to perform from the beginning.
For Jaime Wilson, it's the latter, and Western Michigan is perfectly fine with that.
"He's going to play," WMU head coach Bill Cubit said. "He's shown a lot, he's just got to catch up to the speed of the game. There will be some rough edges early, but he's got so much talent."
Wilson is a former star out of Glades Central High in Belle Glade, Fla., who had a long and sometimes confusing recruiting process. Despite Rivals.com ranking Wilson the 81st best player in Florida and the 73rd wide receiver in the country, he only received one BCS offer, from Charlie Weis at Florida. This offer was pulled when Weis was fired following the 2011 season, and Marshall, Memphis and WMU remained in the picture. Wilson chose WMU, in part because of connections he had with Floridians on the roster.
Now, he's battling for playing time with other big-time recruits like Timmy Keith and Kendrick Roberts, as well as veterans like Josh Schaffer. The main skill that has allowed Wilson to stand out is a rarity for such a young player, as he has impressed coaches and fans alike with his route running ability. He credits his high school coaches, former NFLers Jessie Hester and Roosevelt Blackmon, for emphasizing the importance of that aspect of the game.
"It was more coaching, but I took it upon myself too. In my off time, I was going out running routes on the weekends," Wilson told BroncoBlitz.com.
This isn't to say that the transition has been easy. Even though Wilson is a BCS level talent, there's still a lot to learn coming from high school into the Mid-American Conference, and particularly going up against the speedy and experienced secondary that WMU fields. Wilson mentioned both speed and physicality as traits he will have to work on to become an elite wide receiver at this level.
"The speed of the game has changed from high school to college. In high school, I was the man, you could say one of the best receivers in Florida. But coming here, I'm playing against some of the best guys from all over," he said.
Indeed, Wilson was not known so much for his size or speed coming out of high school. He stands at a fairly modest 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and his forty time stands in the mid 4.5s. It's his route running, field vision, and first step explosiveness that stood out to coaches and analysts across the country.
In addition to the speed of the game, there was a major transition for Wilson learning the complex WMU playbook put together by Cubit. While most of the current receiving corps was learning and practicing with the team in the spring, Wilson was finishing up his high school career, so he had a lot of catching up to do once fall practice rolled around. Luckily for both Wilson and for Western Michigan, his mature game helped him learn the system quickly and hit the ground running.
"Now, I know the whole system, so it's easy," he explained. "When I first got here, I only knew some of the plays, I didn't know the signals that went with the plays. As the camp went on, everything started coming together, and it got so much easier."
Wilson's dedication to getting on the field is certainly evident. It was not long into camp when he approached coaches about getting a shot returning punts, knowing that there was a hole to be filled at the position after Jordan White's graduation. He was given a shot, and now he's one of the two finalists for the spot along with running back Dareyon Chance.
Unsurprisingly, Cubit confirmed after Thursday's practice that Wilson will indeed play as a true freshman. This leaves the amount of playing time as the only question for the high three-star recruit. While it's rare for a player to be fully ready for the opening game of his true freshman season, Jaime Wilson might just prove to be too hard to keep off the field.