Once-overlooked Darren Wilson looks to make impact in ISU’s passing game

ISU receiver Darren Wilson, in action last season for Butler (Kan.) Community College. (Photo courtesy Wilson’s Hudl page)

 AMES — Darren Wilson mentally prepared himself for a second year at Butler (Kan.) Community College.

 He’d adjusted to life far from his Georgia home. He’d made close friends. He’d excelled on the field as an outside receiver.

 But this spring, the 6-3, 198-pound speedster’s growth accelerated — and for a once-overlooked guy now considered one of the fastest players on a speed-filled Iowa State team, that’s saying something.

 “Stuff happens,” Wilson said with a shrug.

 The stuff of dreams.

 Wilson’s first D-1 offer came from Buffalo. He called that development “exciting,” but nothing compared to when Iowa State offered shortly thereafter.

 “When Iowa State came (in) and offered me my first Power Five, that’s always been my dream, so that’s what I did,” he said.

 Wilson eventually received an offer from West Virginia, as well, but a relatively late official visit to Ames sold him on Coach Matt Campbell and the Cyclones’ rising program immediately.

 “I think he fits our culture, number one,” ISU receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase said. “He’s a kid that has come in and really not just been a new guy that’s just trying to find his way. I feel like his first day he came here he really fit in with our guys and fit in with their beliefs and what they’re about. So that part alone is obvious to us as coaches and obvious to the players when you come in like that. I think that’s what he’s shown early on.”

 Wilson — who caught 20 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns last season — joins a room rippling with talent, though much of it is unproven. That’s led to great competition in fall camp at all three receiver positions. Tarique Milton’s obviously the frontrunner to become the main outside threat after Hakeem Butler’s early departure to the NFL. Deshaunte Jones looks to once again slice and dice defenders from the inside out at the “M” position. But once you glance past those two top returners, a slew of skilled pass catchers populate the three-deep at each spot.

 There’s Landen Akers, whose speed could serve as a potent complement to Jones at the “M” slot. There are redshirt freshmen Joe Scates and Sean Shaw — along with Arkansas grad transfer La’Michael Pettway, among others, vying for reps on the outside.

 In short, there’s no discernible “go-to guy,” which can be a good thing, said sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy.

 “Compared to last year I feel like we’re spreading the ball around a lot better,” Purdy said.

 What can Wilson bring to the “X” position?

 “One, his footwork is amazing,” Purdy said. “He can really chop and get going. His speed’s awesome. Hands are great. So he’s done a tremendous job right now in camp. We’ve just got to keep building every single day and we’ve still got a ways to go until the first game, so we’re just gonna keep working.”

 That’s Wilson’s credo. It carried him from high school — where he set a school record in the 100-meter dash, to one semester of local community college. Butler called after that and Wilson’s journey from obscurity to potential prominence gathered significant steam.

“It moved kind of fast for him and I think when he showed up here he was just eager to learn,” Scheelhaase said. “Eager to work in the weight room. Our strength staff had good things to say about him so all of those things, when you come in like that, ready to work, that gives you a chance.”

 Wilson simply rolls with the rapid pace of change. It’s all good — but nothing’s taken for granted. That’s not how he got here. 

 “Just gonna work,” he said. “I don’t know how things are gonna go. Just gonna work and hopefully, things go for the best.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.