On Saturday night, senior running back Dontravious Wilson will step onto the field at Bright House Networks Stadium for the final time. Even after all he has endured over the course of his college football career, he doesn’t feel like it’s about to end.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Wilson said. “But I know as I walk across the field on senior night, it’ll finally hit me.”
For many seniors, the arrival of a new coaching staff and system right before their final year is a major challenge.
Some choose to transfer, some halfheartedly finish their careers and some stick with it. Wilson, who missed much of UCF’s winless 2015 season with an injury, elected to stay, and it sure has paid off. This season, he has rushed for a team-high 426 yards and eight touchdowns.
He could’ve transferred. He could’ve stuck with his style of play. Instead, he trimmed down, got faster and learned the offense. His ability to put his head down and go to work has served him well, as he remains one of the featured weapons of the Knights’ offense.
“He’s really been a sponge,” running backs coach Ryan Held said. “He’s come in and asked the right questions. He understands the concepts, which has allowed him to have success. He’s put himself in position to really contribute.”
Held compares Wilson to a three or four-tool player in baseball, saying that the team will miss his consistency and versatility next year. After missing so much of last season, Wilson came into 2016 ready to adapt to the new staff and system, while adopting the team’s “Rise and Conquer” mantra on a personal level. The changes didn’t faze him one bit, and that has translated to his consistent play on the field this season.
“[I] never think about failing,” Wilson said. “If you want to do something, set your mind to it and wake up each and every day rising and conquering. If you believe that you can do it, you’ll do it.”
Wilson has done it. He has been the backfield’s “Steady Eddie”, according to Held, which has been a major plus for a position group with so many young players. Freshmen Jawon Hamilton and Adrian Killins have produced at a high level this season, but the adjustment period in college football isn’t always an easy one. That’s where Wilson has been even more effective, taking leadership despite not being an overly vocal person.
“He’s been a nice mentor to the younger kids we have in our [running back] room,” Held said. “He’s not a big ‘rah rah’ guy, but he’s able to get with those guys and really help them.”
He certainly has helped, as Hamilton and Killins have combined for 742 yards and six touchdowns. The two are set to lead the UCF offense into the future, continuing to develop the “UCFast” brand that head coach Scott Frost brought to the program.
Even though Wilson is moving on from his time with the program, he sees a bright future for the Knights’ backfield.
“[Hamilton and Killins] have great vision. They work very hard,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of freshmen coming in as hungry [as they are].”
Wilson was around for UCF’s 2013 season, one that saw the Knights go 12-1 and win the Fiesta Bowl. He was also around for last year’s 0-12 season, one that saw longtime coach George O’Leary retire. Through it all, he has remained positive. He takes the hits as they come, knowing that he’s taking them for a reason.
“Everything that you go through, you go through it for a reason,” he said. “I feel like the things we went through, like last year not winning a game, I feel like we went through it for a reason. Now this year, we’re back on track and going to a bowl.”
Wilson and the Knights (6-4) finish up their home slate on Saturday against Tulsa (7-3) at 8:00 before taking on rival USF (8-2) next week.