FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — Tyler Wilson hasn’t started a football game since 2007 — when he was a high school senior.
The Arkansas quarterback finally will have that chance when the No. 15 Razorbacks host Missouri State on Saturday.
Wilson said he’s anxious — not nervous — for game day.
"I think after the first few plays I’ll be settled in and I’ll be right where I need to be," Wilson said. "That anxiousness will kind of find its way out."
No doubt the Razorbacks faithful will feel plenty nervous as they settle in to watch the state’s homegrown hero begin his journey in the post-Ryan Mallett era.
Wilson originally wasn’t offered a scholarship by then coach Houston Nutt. But once Bobby Petrino arrived from the Atlanta Falcons, it didn’t take him long to outrecruit some of the top programs in the country — including Alabama, LSU and Oregon — and secure Wilson’s signature.
The Greenwood, Ark., player has paid his dues since, using a medical redshirt as a freshman and playing sparingly as Mallett’s backup the past two seasons. During that time, Wilson endeared himself to his coaches and teammates.
"What gives us confidence is the confidence he brings to the huddle," junior receiver Cobi Hamilton said. "It’s similar to Ryan. Everybody has confidence in Tyler. He knows the offense, he knows where everybody is supposed to be and just the timing we have with Tyler ever since I’ve been here."
Once Mallett declared for the NFL draft after last season, Wilson took control. He did it by organizing offseason workouts and leading weight-lifting sessions, aided by the respect he had built up during a 332-yard, four-touchdown performance in a relief role at Auburn last season.
The message was clear: It was his time.
"He demonstrated (leadership) all winter long, all spring, all summer," Petrino said. "Everything that’s he’s done up to this point in practice, he’s demonstrated the fact that ‘I’m the leader of this football team, and I’m the starting quarterback.’"
Petrino, however, didn’t just hand Wilson the starting job. Rather, he encouraged a competition between Wilson and sophomore Brandon Mitchell. He didn’t even budge when Wilson was selected by the players as one of the team’s six captains, finally making it official last week.
Even defensive teammates such as senior end Jake Bequette took notice of Wilson’s command on and off the field.
"It’s amazing to think just a few days after the Sugar Bowl was over, he had that (starter’s) mindset ready," Bequette said. "I think he made up his mind that he was the starter, even if the coach’s mind wasn’t made up yet."