PLANTATION, Fla. — A break during a track meet at the University of Florida gives Chad Wilson a chance to show his two sons one of the most popular venues in all of college football.
Wilson makes his way down Stadium Road with Quincy, 9, and Marco, 6. They arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and walk to the bottom of the bleachers to get a feel for Florida Field.
One of Wilson’s boys jumps over the wall and begins running around.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Chad says. “All he knows is there’s a football field and he likes football, so off he went.”
His other son is not amused and elects to stay in the stands, all the while scolding his brother for taking that field.
When he returns to the wall after a couple minutes, a prophetic declaration is made.
“I’m going to play for the Gators one day,” Marco Wilson says, to the disgust of his brother. Quincy replies, “You’re an idiot.”
At the time, Quincy is a die-hard Miami Hurricanes fan and has attended home games since his toddler days.
“He’s a full-blown Hurricane,” Chad says. “So he calls Marco stupid and yells at him, ‘Get off the Gators field!’ He’s making fun of him, but Marco doesn’t care.
“Then hearing his brother say he wants to play for Florida is the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. It’s funny and ironic how that played out.”
After three years at UF, Quincy is projected to be a first-round pick on April 27 in the 2017 NFL Draft. Marco signed with Florida on Feb. 1 and will compete for playing time next season at cornerback, where the Gators have a void following the early departures of the elder Wilson brother and Teez Tabor.
But as he showed in The Swamp more than a decade ago, Marco is not trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother.
Quincy’s fandom came from his father, who played cornerback for the Miami Hurricanes in 1994 after transferring from Long Beach State. After his college career, Chad Wilson got into coaching and started GridironStuds.com, a website and app that helps high schools football players get recruited.
He exposed Quincy and Marco as well as step-daughter Damianis Eusebioto to various sports when they were young. Both boys, however, gravitated toward football.
“They did a number of things, even Taekwondo and music classes,” Chad says. “In my heart, I really wanted them to be baseball players and both were very good. They could switch hit and pitch.
“But once they started playing football, baseball became boring and they weren’t passionate about it. My wife Carmen and I understood you’re going to be great in life at what you’re passionate about.”
Quincy played quarterback for several years, while Marco took to wide receiver. Both signed up for flag football at age 6, and Marco’s athleticism was evident early on.
“His first year he had some pretty spectacular plays,” Chad says. “His second year of flag football, they might have pulled his flag three times the whole season.
“But Marco didn’t get the whole flag football concept. He would hit a kid and when the kid was down on the ground he’d pull the flag off. He struggled with that.”
Over time, their cornerback genes could not be denied and they eventually moved to the defensive side of the ball. Despite Chad’s background at the position, Quincy and Marco initially resisted learning from their dad.
“The guy telling you to clean your room can’t be the guy telling you about football,” Chad says. “But they didn’t have a chance to pick my brain. They were getting the knowledge whether they wanted it or not.
“At some point, they could see it gave them the advantage over the next guy. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve sought out that knowledge more.”
Quincy calls Chad the toughest coach he’s ever had. They would train at 5:30 in the morning, work on defensive back drills and study film together.
“As a young kid, I didn’t want to listen to everything he had to say,” Quincy says. “Once I got to high school, I started realizing he knows what he’s talking about because he played the game. Without him, I wouldn’t have been anything.”
As Marco watched Quincy reap the fruits of his labor and become a big-time recruit, he was anxious to work with his father after he decided on playing cornerback in eighth grade.
“I was in a great position to have someone who this know much and can teach me so I can have a jump start on everybody else,” Marco says. “I played corner for one game when I moved up to JV and I fell in love. I didn’t like receiver because I had to depend on somebody else for my success. I never want to be in that position.”
Quincy committed to Florida in the Class of 2014, choosing the Gators over Ohio State and Notre Dame. He played in the Under Armour All-America Game and also competed in The Opening, an annual combine for the nation’s top recruits at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
Marco attended both events and was motivated in high school to reach Quincy’s recruiting status.
“I saw him get invited to The Opening and I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ I just locked in from there,” Marco says. “When I was in ninth grade, he was a senior and everybody was calling me Quincy Wilson’s little brother. I hated that.
“I’m my own person. I’m not him. That’s my brother. but that’s not me. I needed to start doing my own thing and making sure I got my own name. I wanted to do what he’s doing, but do it better.”
First, the baby-faced freshman had to develop physically. When Quincy reported to Florida in the summer of 2014, Marco was four inches shorter than his 6-foot-1 brother.
Quincy returned home a few months later for the holiday break and Marco had grown to 5-foot-11.
“It was really crazy because I remember when I first left for college he was a baby,” Quincy remembers. “I came back for Christmas and I was like, ‘Dang.’ I worked out with him during the break and I could see that he was really on that level.”
Marco had transferred to American Heritage prior his sophomore year and produced that fall, earning 11 scholarship offers after the season. Then in the spring of 2015, Marco caught a pass one-handed while doing a backflip.
“I saw somebody on Twitter do it, but he was standing still and caught it with both hands,” Marco says. “I was bored one day so I just tried to do it my own way.”
Chad quips, “When you’re bored you read a book, right? He does a backflip and catches a football.”
Marco brought home video of the catch and showed his father so he could share it on his popular Twitter page.
“As soon as he sees me he goes, ‘I did something at school today that was pretty cool. This will probably get 1,000 retweets.’ That came in like 10 minutes,” Chad says.
The video was picked up by dozens of media outlets and Marco became an Internet sensation overnight. It also boosted his recruiting profile and made him a household name in the Class of 2017.
“Somebody contacted me from ABC News, then NFL Network, then ESPN, then CNN,” Chad says. “We actually had to hire some people to handle it and market the video. But we didn’t have to promote it. They just kept coming and coming and coming.”
For Marco’s parents, his viral backflip was just the latest stunt from their risk-taking son. At a graduation ceremony, he climbed on the roof of a middle school and was filming himself doing “selfie flips.”
A mall security officer once ran over Marco with a segway after he fell in front of him while play-fighting with his brother. There was also a week when Chad made three separate trips to the emergency room.
“Marco has always been a daredevil,” Chad says. “Just way too much energy. I was the same way, so he’s taken on more of my personality. I’m like, ‘Dammit, I wish you didn’t have that.’ He probably pisses me off more than any of my kids, but I see me in him.”
Following an eventful spring and summer, Marco entered his junior season with high expectations. He won a state championship with American Heritage the year before and was set for a bigger role with the team in 2015.
Two weeks before the season, however, fall training camp came to a screeching halt.
“I was playing with a torn meniscus but I had no clue,” Marco says. “My knee was really weak and my dad was telling me to sit out, but I wouldn’t listen.
“I was at practice and tried to pull the ball out of somebody’s hand while my foot was planted. They fell the opposite way and my leg just twisted. I couldn’t speak it hurt so bad.”
Marco had torn his ACL. There would be no breakout season, and the buzz from his viral video soon faded with him sidelined. He was overcome with emotion during the season opener against IMG Academy.
“I was on crutches and I did a lot of crying at that first game,” Marco says. “I was just watching it like, ‘Dang, I should be out there.’ I’m the type of person that hates sitting. If I’m hurt, I’m going to try and play. So I was really mad.”
That wasn’t the only frustration for Wilson, who weighed 175 pounds prior to his injury. After a few weeks off his feet and surgery, he had lost 26 pounds.
“He looked skinny,” Chad says. “For him to get on the scale and it say 149, it was a little bit of a shock.”
Marco says the injury and weight loss from it was the hardest month of his life. It upset him at times, but also made the rehab process more appealing.
“After my surgery I was just sitting down and not doing anything,” Marco says. “My leg looked like the size of my ankle all the way up, so that really bothered me.
“I had to get right because there was no other option. Rehab was the most important thing for my career. I wanted to come back my senior year and handle business.”
In hindsight, Chad feels Marco’s ACL tear was the best thing that ever happened. It gave his son appreciation for the game and made him grow up in a hurry.
“He learned how this could all be taken from you like that,” Chad says. “He got knocked down and didn’t stay down. I think that’s what every parent would want to see.
“The way Marco rehabbed, he’s almost like the model football player for anyone else who’s torn their ACL. He came back stronger, bigger and better than ever.”
Five weeks after his ACL surgery, Marco was away from the confines of his bedroom and jogging in the pool. He began seeing a therapist for rehab, but her recovery methods didn’t suffice for his father.
“We’d go there and he’d be doing like leg lifts with her with no weight on,” Chad says. “Meanwhile, we’re doing exercises with 10- or 20-pound weights at home. One day Marco told her and she was like, ‘What?!’
“We drove her crazy. But he was an athlete and for him to have one skinny leg, that didn’t sit well with him.”
Marco gained his full range of motion after six months and was able to compete during track season. The Opening regionals began in February, but Marco wasn’t at full strength for the South Florida combine.
Instead, he waited until May 1 and competed in the New Jersey regional. His father made the trip with him.
“I didn’t enjoy it, to be honest with you,” Chad says. “That’s the worst I’ve ever been as far as worried. I didn’t know if his knee would hold up. Every time he went down to the ground I was waiting for him to get up.
“I felt like a two-hour roller coaster that I didn’t want to be on in the first place. But I knew it was a necessary evil for him to try and make it to The Opening. It was good to get that out of the way before spring football.”
Wilson earned the invitation he had coveted since his freshman year and celebrated the only way he knew how.
“They told him he’s going to The Opening and this kid does a backflip,” Chad says. “I guess that was his way of saying, ‘I’m back.’ ”
At that moment, Marco indeed felt the injury was finally behind him. It was his first time testing his knee on the football field and he passed with flying colors.
“That was big for me,” Marco says. “I know my dad was worried about me hurting myself, but I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just happy to be back and I got my invite.”
Marco, now 6-foot, returned to practice that spring as a new and improved version of his old self. After failing to repeat as state champions in 2015, he led American Heritage back to the title game last season and finished his high school career with another ring.
His head coach, former NFL cornerback Patrick Surtain, witnessed Wilson improve immensely from 2014 to 2016.
“Just his athleticism and his competitiveness,” Surtain says. “He has all the physical tools, but he’s technically sound and he plays the game at a high level. He was outstanding for us as a senior.
“Given the pedigree of his family, he’s been around the game a long time and you notice it. With his father and older brother playing, it taught him a lot and he carries it to the field.”
Marco committed to Florida prior to his senior season after considering offers from 30 schools, including Miami, Georgia, Ohio State and Southern Cal.
Most fans and recruiting analysts expected Wilson to choose the Gators because of his brother, but Quincy wanted Marco to make his own decision.
“I wasn’t forcing him to come here,” he says. “In my recruiting process, I didn’t like when people told me where to go. He needed to form his own thoughts on the whole process, take all his visits and go see different places. At the end of the day, he saw the DBU tradition at Florida and wanted to continue that.”
Quincy came to the same conclusion during his recruitment. He wanted to attend Miami, but the Hurricanes never offered and recruited him as a linebacker/safety. Regardless, Chad believes Florida was the better options for both of his boys.
“Miami’s defense, it was horrendous in 2013,” Chad says. “My kids didn’t want to play in that. They want to play at a place where the defense is biting, so to speak. Florida provides that. Miami was more appealing with Marco because they offered him, showed that interest and they looked like they would be better defensively. It was hard to be worse.
“But Miami still doesn’t have a long enough track record. When you look at Florida, it’s the same year after year. What’s most likely to happen during Marco’s time there? If I had to guess, they’re going to still be a good defensive team. Florida’s defensive resume is better. Miami fans don’t want to hear that, but the truth is what it is.”
That’s why Marco insists he still would’ve picked the Gators even if his brother went elsewhere. He indicated as much in a simple yet emphatic tweet earlier this month.
“I always liked Florida as a little kid, especially when Jeff Demps was there,” Marco says. “After seeing Vernon Hargreaves, who I really looked up to, that probably would have motivated me to be like him.
“Coach (Jim) McElwain offered me the first time we met, and I knew I wanted to play for him. You see this new coach come in and start making a big impact so early, it makes you want to be a part of that.”
Cornerback was the top priority for McElwain and his coaches in the previous recruiting cycle, and they signed five players at the position. At least one of them will need to make an immediate impact.
“I definitely feel like he can be that guy,” Quincy says. “I played my freshman year, but I think he’ll be better than me. I hope he is.”
So does Marco, whose biggest pet peeve is being called Quincy Wilson’s little brother. He wants to shed that label as quickly as possible when he arrives at Florida.
“I know it’s going to be rough at first because everybody is going to be comparing me to him and what he did,” Marco says. “But that’s just going to motivate me to be better than him and surpass everything he’s done. Now that he’s going to the draft, people tell me I’m about to have money.
“I’m like, ‘No, that’s his money.’ I’m not going to ask him for stuff. That’s not how I live. I’m not going to be that guy depending on somebody else. I want to go get it on my own. I’m not asking him for a car. I want to go to Florida and use the little scooter he had and do it just like he did.”
Wilson Era. pic.twitter.com/lpQug2d2lC
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) December 9, 2016