BJ Wilson: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

Measurables is one of the big buzzwords of #DraftSZN, and for good reason. You can be the most dedicated draft prospect in history, have the best technique in your class, and the highest IQ since Pat McInally smashed the Wonderlic test back in 1975. Ultimately though, football is played by men who are extremely big and ridiculously fast. And whilst there have been admirable outliers, those with elite size and speed will always be coveted. Why? Because you can’t teach size, and you can’t teach speed. It really is that simple.

Hailing from a small Division II school in Illinois, BJ Wilson has had to work hard to get any exposure during this pre-draft process. But neither the measurables nor the tape lies; this giant can MOVE – and the NFL has taken notice. The Quincy offensive lineman sat down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the  draft:

Finding Football

BJ Wilson has fond memories of his childhood. Growing up in Florrisant, Missouri – just north of St. Louis – Wilson credits his father for first turning his attention to football, despite his mother’s initial misgivings:

“I grew up in a two parent household for the most part. I think it was my kindergarten year when my dad had to move to Washington DC for work, but while he was up there I lived with my mom, grandmother, grandfather, uncle and sister – all in the same house! My dad moved back home when I was in sixth grade, and that was when I really started getting into football. My mom had always told my dad that he wasn’t allowed to bring football up with me – I had to bring it up with him, tell him I wanted to play. She was kind of scared of it! But around that time I started watching it with him more, and it wasn’t long before I told him I wanted in.”

His mother should have directed her concerns to Wilson’s opponents; A hulking 6’6” and 320lbs now, he wasn’t much smaller as a young man – and even more intimidating amongst his peers back then. He had the measurables to be a menace on the gridiron, and yet like a lot of offensive linemen, he spent time on the basketball court too:

“I began playing football immediately after the conversation. I couldn’t play in eighth grade because I broke my toe playing soccer, and they didn’t have a boot big enough to fit me – I had to get the whole thing casted! I mean, I’ve always been the biggest guy in my class – I’ve pretty much been this height since I broke that toe. There’s a picture of me at the tipoff of a CYC basketball game and man, I just dwarf everybody else!”

Quincy, Illinois: A New Home

BJ Wilson took that athletic prowess and continued to make a sporting impact at High School. A decision to focus on one sport was inevitable, but it turns out his size made the choice a simple one:

“I went to an all-boy high school called SLUH (St. Louis University High), played basketball and football. I made varsity on the court as a freshman, on the gridiron as a sophomore. I actually started as a defensive end, but pretty much got moved to tight end once I joined the varsity team. But I often dipped in and out of defense to help out – I still played a little d-end as a junior and senior, as well as a few snaps as a nose tackle! I stepped in on our dime package, and there were three of us on the line in and around 6’5”. It was a pretty interesting pass rush! On the court I played center, but was a little undersized – I was up against guys like (Boston Celtics’) Jayson Tatum in our conference. So football was always going to have more longevity…”

Wilson began his football career on defense. A big, quick defensive end, he enjoyed getting after the quarterback. But as he started gauging some modest college interest, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be the recruiting fairytale that some young student-athletes enjoy. 

“I started going to camps as a sophomore. Nobody was really interested in me. I do remember one camp at Mizzou, playing some defensive end, and one of the coaches was like ‘how do you feel about playing o-line?’ But I was young, didn’t really think about it. I was a d-end, that’s where I wanted to play. It honestly didn’t cross my mind to see the bigger picture, be willing to play anywhere to have a shot at college football. So I definitely learned to have a more open mind. But back then, both Mizzou and Northern Iowa wanted me as a preferred walk-on for the offensive line. I had no film at the position, so they couldn’t offer me a scholarship.”

Eventually, Wilson began to broaden his school search. A position change to tight end as a junior also helped, and eventually he found a new home – following the Mississippi River two hours North:

“It came down to two D2 schools in the end; Quincy and Missouri Western. Quincy intrigued me, because I had a former teammate playing out there. He was back one day watching a basketball game, and afterwards asked about my recruiting. When he found out nobody was offering me a full ride, he sent my tape to his coaches. They invited me up for a visit almost immediately, and I just fell in love with Quincy. The coaches were great, but it was the teachers and support staff – they made me feel like family. Once they offered me as a tight end, I knew I didn’t need to visit Missouri Western – I had found my home.”

Student Athlete

Known as the ‘Gem City’ Quincy is a humble outpost on the Missouri-Illinois state line with a population of about 40,000. Indeed, the university has just 1,000 students enrolled – but it was this small, close-knit feel that made it the perfect place for BJ Wilson to continue his education:

“It was kind of nice to feel like you knew everyone on campus. And the fact that I wasn’t just another number in the classroom, helped me get through school. I had a personal relationship with all my teachers, and it paid off – I already have my degree in criminal justice and computer science with a minor in cyber security, and I’ll be finishing my masters this Spring.”

Wilson’s pride in his academics is obvious – and with a 3.4 GPA, rightly so. I asked him if his studies were as big a factor in his decision to head to Quincy as football was. The two are inextricably linked, with one facilitating the other, but there was no doubt that leaving university with qualifications was the priority:

“I always loved playing football. Having the sport pay for my education was great, but the main goal was always taking advantage of the academics as much as the opportunity allowed. Obviously, most people would share the opinion like I had that a D2 school wouldn’t give me the chance of playing sports professionally, so I just focused on my education in terms of my future. But at a point in my junior year, things began to turn around – it dawned on me and others that I might be able to keep playing.”

Embracing Change

Unsurprisingly, information on The Quincy Hawks is thin on the ground. D2 schools aren’t as proactive keeping their football team player bios up to date like the FBS programs tend to be. I’m intrigued to find out more about BJ Wilson’s evolution as a player, and what it was that made him realise an NFL career was obtainable:

“So I arrived at Quincy in the fall as a tight end, and got redshirted in my first camp. For the early part I’m training, practicing as a tight end. But then we get back for Winter conditioning and they tell me they’re going to have me ‘step in’ on some o-line drills. Basically I split time between tight end and o-line in practices. My coach, he’s sneaking chicken tenders onto my plate at lunch, trying to make me gain some weight! And at some point before Spring practices, they confess that I’m going to be playing tackle from then on. So I embrace it and get going, and I’m totally relying on my athleticism at first because I have zero technique. But I work hard to learn off the older guys and I start my first game at left tackle that Spring.”

From Austin Ajiake to Nic Jones, James Tupou to Griffin Hebert; a theme of this year’s draft interviews appears to be position changes. Some prospects embraced the move more than others. Yet despite an early reluctance, Wilson went all in as an offensive lineman:

“So I stayed at Quincy that Summer, working hard at my new position, learning the nuances of the position, correct technique, and generally just getting that bit of a nasty streak you need for o-line. And that work allowed me to start my first competitive game that next season. My first two games I’m on the right, and then they move me to the blindside. I’ve been there ever since.”

Division II Domination

After learning the tricks of his new trade, BJ Wilson goes about imposing himself on opponents. His performances don’t go unnoticed, and he’s recognised by the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) in the form of multiple honors. More than that, Wilson is getting attention from the next level – despite being at ‘little old Quincy’:

“It wasn’t until the COVID season that I get my first all-conference award, but after that I get the award for my last three straight seasons. I’m named to the Elite 100 watchlist prior to my last year, and it’s then that I start to get the attention of some NFL scouts. I guess it was a combination of the size and quickness I had. My basketball background, I played a lot of defense. Which meant I had really great feet for a big dude, and I was able to translate that to football. A big unique selling point for me is how well I can move compared to most guys my size – even some tackles who are smaller than me.”

Last offseason, Wilson was named to watchlists for both the Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl, and named to Bruce Feldman’s ‘Freaks List’, a prestigious yearly article that highlights college football stars who have an elite blend of size and athleticism. Despite the attention, and despite being on a team that never registered a winning record his six seasons at the school, Wilson never had any thought of heading elsewhere:

“I’ve always been a loyal individual. Me staying at Quincy all six years, that speaks to my team dedication. It’s not easy to keep losing, then go into recruiting season and convince kids to come to Quincy and tell them ‘it’s slowly turning around’. And in terms of a culture standpoint, it definitely is; when I first got here it was a completely different scenario. Coach Bass has really changed the attitude. And fighting for your team despite being one of the smallest schools in the conference, it builds togetherness. I was 100% committed to Quincy, and despite it being hard at times I don’t regret anything.”

Positional Versatility

BJ Wilson leaves Quincy as an unlikely NFL Draft prospect – and he’s happy to admit it. After two position changes, a tough recruiting experience, and living life in D2 football, the rags to riches narrative is compelling. And yet, his natural aptitude for playing offensive line is undeniable. Despite solely lining up at tackle, Wilson is more than confident he can play inside or outside at the next level:

“I have the ability to play inside or outside. Typically, tackles are more athletic, a category I fit well in. I’m probably on the shorter side of what an NFL tackle is, but my speed and fluidity more than makes up for that. Having said that, the few times I’ve taken reps at guard, it feels totally natural. I don’t want to say I’m one or the other – I think I can be one of those guys that can do both. It just depends on the scheme. I bring that versatility that teams covet.”

That versatility would have been on show at the Shrine Bowl had Wilson not been in a walking boot. Recovering from an injury, he was unable to participate in drills. But that’s not to say the showcase wasn’t an opportunity for him to improve his game – far from it:

“They brought all the o-line guys into a room and the scouts just kinda picked out who they wanted to talk to. It was good to gauge the interest in me compared to others, but personally I tried to make the most of it, despite the injury. I was there with next-level guys, D1 and FBS guys – and it was a good opportunity to study technique up and close. And a real cool moment was standing next to (former Chiefs Hall of Famer) Will Shields and having him break down little bits for me. Luckily my agent was there because I didn’t have my phone on me, so I just kept asking them to send me voice memos with everything he was telling me! I wanted to soak up everything.”

NFL Networking

The Shrine Bowl is a selective showcase game, and BJ Wilson’s invite is a testament to how he is thought of in NFL circles. With Quincy probably less visited by scouts than other college football destinations, Wilson was grateful to be able to network more:

“I got to meet a whole bunch of people. Reconnect with some of the scouts that came through Quincy, show them how you’ve worked on your body and your game. Some guys wanted to watch film with you, ask you more detailed questions. And then there were scouts of teams introducing themselves for the first time, taking down basic details and measurements. It definitely made you understand just how real the moment is now.”

Wilson’s pre draft training has been hindered by his injury, but not completely halted. He’ll be headed to Northwestern’s pro day on March 14th; Working out at D1 Western in St. Louis, he won’t be a full participant, but confident there’s enough evidence of his athleticism on tape already.

“I’ve just been lifting so far, but I’ve literally just been cleared to do more workouts. So me and my Coach Alec are about to ramp things up, begin the process of moving again. Sadly I won’t be running at my pro day; it’s just come too quick for me to be able to sprint. But hopefully the scouts have seen the numbers, watched my athleticism on tape, and know I can move.”

"I'm Putting My School On The Map"

BJ Wilson’s unassuming approach to an NFL career goes as far as having zero plans for draft weekend. There were whispers of a party up at Quincy, but the injury has potentially hurt his draft stock and the idea has been shelved. Unperturbed, Wilson is just grateful to be a part of this year’s cycle:

“I’m not gonna watch every single pick of the draft, but I will watch a lot of it. Being involved in the process has been really interesting. It’s super exciting to know that, when people talk about the 2023 NFL Draft, I was a part of it. So I’ll watch more than I typically would, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself. Sitting there laser focused on the TV won’t do anything beneficial. Even though I’m a small school cat, teams by this point recognise what I have. People this size, who can move like me, that’s hard to obtain. At some point my name will come into consideration.”

Well spoken, always friendly, and confident in his answers, Wilson’s wariness of thinking about an NFL career should not be mistaken for a lack of ambition. He’s just realistic of where his journey has him in a world that – right now – is all about perception. We know from past drafts that a small school lineman’s draft stock can fluctuate wildly. Motivated by things other than fame or fortune, Wilson is careful not to get too drawn in, acknowledging that getting a phone call that last weekend in April isn’t the end goal:

“I didn’t have an NFL dream a few years ago, so I look at the NFL Draft from a different perspective. I’m putting my school on the map. This team gave me this opportunity, and a lot of people hear Quincy, Illinois, and say ‘what is that?’. And even those that do know, like other programs in our conference, I really don’t think Quincy gets the respect it deserves. Just being able to get them that recognition would mean something to me. There’s a lot of people that told me it couldn’t be done. If I made a final 53 I’d be the first player from the school to do that, and making that history is something that really motivates me. So it’s not just about hearing my name called on draft weekend. It’s about the journey after that.”

Mock Draft





A huge thank you to BJ for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.