By RYAN HERMAN
Currently a part-time resident of Chicago, C.J. Wilson doesn’t forget where he comes from.
In fact, what he did Friday night was all for his hometown.
Wilson, a 2008 graduate of Lincolnton High, made his professional debut Friday night for the Chicago Bears in a 24-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
While Wilson played on special teams for the majority of the night and at defensive back during the second half, his team-high four tackles weren’t what was important.
It was showing those younger than him growing up in the hometown he loves that they, too, can make their dreams a reality.
“To give the young kids back in Lincolnton something to look up to and something to strive for, that’s the big thing –– just give them guys something to say that they can do it,” Wilson told the Lincoln Times-News by phone after Sunday’s practice. “We didn’t have that growing up. We didn’t have guys doing that or saying you can play at the next level. We didn’t have that type of crowd. It felt good to put that out there.”
Wilson went undrafted in the spring and the Bears signed him as a free agent. Once the NFL released its schedules, people made sure to purchase their tickets for Wilson’s professional debut, which took place in a stadium roughly 45 minutes from where he became a record-setting and state champion running back for the Wolves.
The speedy offensive star turned defensive stopper enjoyed the support from those who attended the game or called just as much as he did playing in the game itself.
“It was overwhelming just because everybody who came out. I’m very thankful. I had all of my former teammates from high school, my high school coach, of course my mom and my dad and my little brother. It was just overwhelming to see all of the support that I had come out for that game.,” Wilson said. “I still can’t believe it, all the people who were out there. When I seen all the people in the stands, and heard of all the people that were there, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it.”
The first of his team-best four solo tackles will always be remembered, but the highlight of Wilson’s night was seeing his parents and younger brother in the stands.
“When I seen my mom and dad, that was my most cherished moment,” said Wilson, who added he always looks for his mother during pregame activities. “I’m out here, this is my dream, and my parents got to see me play at this level. That was a blessing.”
And not a single one of those who saw Wilson play live bothered him for a ticket –– something else Wilson loves about his hometown.
“That right there, that was another overwhelming thing –– that I have people back at home that aren’t like, ‘Can I get this or can I get that?’ They’re like, ‘We’re coming to support you and we want to see you excel,’ and that means a lot to me. I greatly appreciate that,” Wilson said.
But once the game began, Wilson was all business.
He said pregame he was told he’d begin the second half in the secondary, but was surprised when he was called out for special teams so soon.
The early call gave Wilson butterflies, which were overcome when he tackled Armond Smith on a punt return at the Carolina 16 with a little over 10 minutes left in the first half.
Wilson continued to play on special teams, and got his first taste on the defensive side of the NFL when he started the second half at left cornerback.
His other three tackles came in the secondary in the second half.
“It just kind of surprised me. … I was like, ‘Oh man.’ I had the jitters. But after a while I settled down and got my composure,” Wilson said.
“My whole thing was to go out there and just play. I’ve been doing it my whole life. At the end of the day it’s just football. Overall I’d say I did decent for my first time.”
Wilson said the NFL game was “a little bit faster” than major Division I college football, but at the end of the day “it’s just football.”
“You’ve just got to slow it down in your mind and just go out there and play. You have to remember what got you here,” Wilson said. “You take what you learned on the practice field and put it with your athletic ability, and at the end of the day that’s what you do –– you play football.”
With one preseason game down, that’s one step closer to Wilson’s ultimate goal of making the Bears’ 53-man regular season roster.
Chicago’s next preseason game is at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Solider Field against the San Diego Chargers on ESPN, and no doubt there will be plenty who tune in just to see Wilson in action.
The thing he took away most from the opener non-football related was how many people showed up to see him play in person near where he grew up.
“That’s my only goal –– to make that 53-man roster, and to give something back to Lincolnton. Make Lincolnton proud,” Wilson said.
“I couldn’t have picked out a better way to start it off than to play in (my) hometown.”