Arizona opened the college football season with a heartbreaking loss, watching quarterback Khalil Tate be tackled one yard shy of a potential game-tying touchdown after weaving his way through the Hawaii defense for a 30-yard run as time expired.
But the Wildcats have since won three in a row. That has given Perris Orange Vista High senior lineman Dion Wilson Jr. confidence that Arizona is on the rise and ready to become a Pac-12 Conference power. He committed to become a Wildcat in July.
“I feel like in the next year or two years, we’re going to be an awesome program,” Wilson said. “I feel like we’re going to be one of the top programs, at least top two, top three in the Pac-12.
“It’s really all the facts. It’s how all the teams expected to win, we’re beating them and all the stats and the facts are the proof is inside the pudding,” he added. “It’s showing me everything. On defense, we’re killing; offense, we’re killing. So why not in the next year or two, we’re going to be one of the best teams?”
Adding Wilson to the mix next season should help those efforts for Arizona. He’s a versatile big man at 6-foot-5 1/2 and 260 pounds. Wilson is being recruited to play the defensive line but also has potential as an offensive tackle.
The Arizona coaching staff has told Wilson they see him as a speed end rushing off the edge. He says he is comfortable playing anywhere from straight up against an offensive guard to outside of the tight end.
“You can put me anywhere and I still get the job done,” Wilson said, adding he feels he’s best matched up against offensive tackles. “I can beat most offensive linemen off the ball. When I have an offensive tackle on his heels, I can speed rush them and put them on their back.”
Wilson has improved his game by leaps and bounds over the last year by focusing on his technique. His confidence grew a lot during the offseason when he battled against some of the top offensive linemen in the West at various camps. That drew attention from several colleges, including scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Hawaii, New Mexico and Sacramento State.
“At most of the top camps, everybody’s going to Division I colleges,” Wilson said. “So I really took that environment and that toughness and that speed and that power and really just applied it to my game at the high school level. Just actually being known as like ‘He’s going to college. He’s a college player. He really plays like it.’ I’m really trying to apply that same environment, feeling to my game in high school.”
Some of the colleges that showed interest in Wilson took a measured approach. They wanted to wait to see if the strides he made in his game translated when he put the pads on for the high school season. Wilson chose instead to narrow his focus to the colleges that showed a strong interest, and ultimately committed to Arizona.
“I felt like Arizona was really the place that, like, they want me, I want them,” Wilson said. “This is going to be the place where I will be proudly spending my next four years of my life and really develop as a player.”
The wait-and-see schools continue to recruit Wilson, but his mind is set.
“I don’t really need to take any other visits because I’m committed and I’m 200% in,” he added. “I feel like, as a player, I shouldn’t take any other visits if I know where I want to go and just the place I want to stay at.”
Ride or die
Wilson took his official visit to Arizona last weekend for the Wildcats’ 20-17 win over UCLA. He enjoys the environment around campus and the coaching staff and feels like Arizona is the best fit for him. But the most eye-opening part of the trip was the game atmosphere in Tucson.
“I just loved it,” Wilson said. “I love the fans. Those are some hardcore fans. They’re really ride-or-die Bear Down fans. That’s what I really love.”