“If we go out there with a great attitude and effort every day, we can achieve the things we’ve always tried to achieve.” Tyler Wilson, Arkansas QB
THIBODAUX — It’s almost like a cruel joke is being played on Tyler Wilson.
After a breakout year in which he led the Southeastern Conference in passing, Wilson returns to Arkansas hoping for even more, except he’ll have to do it without three of his top four receivers or former coach Bobby Petrino.
That last bit would seem to be the most troubling, as Petrino’s firing in April for misleading the university and unfairly hiring his mistress gave the program a black eye and removed the brains behind the Razorbacks’ offense.
But in the wake of the scandal, Wilson found a silver lining.
It was time for the players to take ownership.
“I’ve tried to tell that to my team. It’s our legacy and our book that we have a chance to write,” Wilson said at the Manning Passing Academy, where he’s serving as a camp counselor this week.
“Through adversity, I think teams can come closer. If we go out there with a great attitude and effort every day and have the right mindset, we can achieve the things we’ve always tried to achieve, and that’s to win a national championship.”
That’s a tall order, especially in an SEC West that’s headlined by Alabama and LSU.
And it doesn’t get any easier when you consider that top wideout Jarius Wright (66 catches, 1,117 yards, 12 touchdowns), No. 2 target Joe Adams (54 catches, 652 yards, three TDs) and Greg Childs (21 catches, 240 yards) are gone.
Wright and Adams were second and fourth in the conference for receptions per game last season, and no matter how optimistic Wilson is, he knows there are no easy replacements.
“It’s definitely going to hurt,” he said.
But with receiver Cobi Hamilton (34 catches, 542 yards and four touchdowns) and versatile tight end Chris Gragg (41 grabs, 518 yards, two scores) coming back, there are still plenty of pieces to work with.
Not to mention running back Knile Davis, who missed all of 2011 with an ankle injury after piling up 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns the year before.
“Knile is an incredible player,” Wilson said. “I look for him to have a huge year and pick up right where he left off in 2010. I’m excited, and I know he is. He’s ready to get going after a year and a half off.”
The other big replacement job falls to John L. Smith.
With experience as a head coach that includes stops at Louisville and Michigan State, along with a stint as Arkansas’ special teams coach, Smith is an able fill-in for Petrino, but it remains to be seen how much of an effect the coaching change will have.
Wilson said they’ll likely find out after their first few games, as players and coaches used to Petrino’s leadership will have to step up.
But after seeing the team galvanized during spring practices, Wilson always comes back to that silver lining.
“A lot of guys saw that we can still be a very successful football team without one guy being there,” he said. “I think that assured a lot of people. We had everybody stick around. We didn’t have any transfers, the coaching staff remains in tact, and I think people are very comfortable. No changes in the system at all.”