LB Kion Wilson (J. Meric/Getty)
No position on San Diego's roster is friendlier to undrafted rookies than linebacker. Stephen Cooper, Jyles Tucker, Antwan Applewhite and James Holt all went that route to make the team. As he tells in this exclusive interview, South Florida's Kion Wilson believes he is next in line.
Kion Wilson racked up more than 150 tackles in his two seasons at South Florida. He also contributed two interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles. It was not enough to get drafted, but it was enough to get on the radar of several NFL teams.
As soon as the NFL Draft concluded, Wilson fielded calls from the Chagers, Bills, Seahawks, Rams and Falcons. There was a lot of information for Wilson to process, but he didn't take long to make his decision.
"The Chargers were a good fit for me at the moment," he said. "They had recently traded inside linebacker Tim Dobbins to the Miami Dolphins, so that was an open spot I felt I could be able to fill. Also, I liked the history of San Diego's program. It is a winning team that has been successful for five or six years consecutively. Hopefully, this year we complete the task."
Another of San Diego's appeals is the team's history of giving undrafted rookies a fair shake. The Bolts have uncovered undrafted players like Antonio Gates and Kris Dielman and molded them into Pro Bowlers.
Another undrafted role model sits ahead of Wilson on the depth chart.
"Stephen Cooper does a really good job," Wilson said. "He's not the most outspoken guy, but if he talks to you for three seconds, he does say something positive. It's motivational because he came in the same route that I am trying to come in. He was a free agent and now he's been with the program for eight years. He has done well for himself, so I look up to him with the utmost respect. Everything he says, I take heed to it."
Cooper is not the only veteran to make a positive impression on Wilson.
"Philip Rivers greeted all the rookies by name," he said. "That stood out to me and it showed that he actually cared. He really is a leader on and off the field. He's a leader in the weight room, too, because he's always the first guy there. His hard work really does show."
Veterans like Cooper and Rivers have helped smooth a bumpy transition for Wilson. Firstly, he is adjusting to football being his full-time focus. He spends all of his time in meetings, film rooms and weight rooms, rather than splitting his attention with academics like he did at South Florida.
Secondly, Wilson is getting used to receiving less one-on-one attention than he did with the Bulls. Once the big man on campus, he now fights to get noticed.
Fortunately, his time under former USF coach Jim Leavitt prepared him to succeed under any circumstances.
"They instilled discipline in us," Wilson said. "They prepared us for the mental aspects as far as conditioning and making sure everybody was ready to perform."
USF gave Wilson the platform to showcase his natural talents and the coaching to harness his raw abilities.
Now, it's up to him to bring it all together in his quest to make the final 53-man roster in San Diego.
"I just have to know my role," Wilson said. "When the opportunity comes, I have to capitalize. Right now, it is just a game. Everybody at this level is just as athletic and just as fast. The No. 1 thing the Chargers are looking for is for me to come in and compete under that pressure. I need to come in and make plays on special teams."
If he can do that, Wilson may follow the path of one of last year's undrafted rookies: ILB James Holt.
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