By RYAN HERMAN
C.J. Wilson made the cut.
The former Lincolnton High School football star who went undrafted last spring has worked his way onto the Chicago Bears’ 53-man regular season roster, the organization announced on Saturday.
Wilson, who finished the preseason with 13 total tackles, good enough for third best on the team, said he spent the better part of Friday beside his cell phone waiting for a call he hoped wouldn’t come.
On Sunday, he told the Lincoln Times-News by phone his next move is to find a Chicago-based apartment for at least the next 17 weeks.
“I guess I’ll be looking for one,” Wilson said. “Thanks to Lincolnton and to the fans for all their support. I’m not just doing this for myself, but for all of Lincoln County.”
Wilson is the third Lincoln County native to reach football’s highest pinnacle and first since Dennis Byrd was drafted in 1968 in the first round by the old Boston Patriots, according to the historical football website Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Like Byrd, Wilson prepared for the pros by way of N.C. State, where he spent five years learning how to play defense after being an offensive superstar for the Wolves.
Wilson graduated from Lincolnton in 2008 as the county’s all-time leader in career rushing yards (3,941, unofficially) and No. 2 in receiving yards (1,978, unofficially).
He’s since been replaced at those rankings, but a lifetime of carrying the football wasn’t enough to keep him from learning how to stop those who did.
Wilson’s name slipped through the cracks during last April’s draft, and the Bears signed him to an undrafted free agent deal in early May.
Four months later, the running-back-turned-corner-back is officially on a NFL regular season roster.
“It hasn’t been that bad until the last couple of days when you realized, OK, it’s not really in my hands,” Wilson said. “It’s just been a great experience, just playing with all these guys, getting to know them, learning from them.”
Wilson had three tackles, and broke up a two-point conversion in Chicago’s final preseason game at Cleveland on Thursday.
Wilson said the team was told Friday morning after a weight-lifting session that if anyone received a phone call later that day, it probably meant they were cut. His phone never rang, so he grabbed his playbook and gear just incase and headed to the practice facility late Friday night, where his locker was full and he was congratulated by teammates for officially making the team.
It’s been a long road, but it’s a road Wilson wouldn’t change.
“It’s nothing less than a blessing, just to be able to come from where I come from and to overcome what I’ve been through, to be here right now as a Chicago Bear is truly a blessing,” he said. “I owe everything to God.
“It’s been a tough road for sure. To go undrafted, you’ve really got to love what you do.”
Per NFL rules teams can only have 46 players active on game days, which means seven won’t get to play.
But Wilson’s been down the road of uncertainty before, and it’s gotten him a guaranteed spot and rookie salary of about $400,000 this season in the NFL.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to dress or anything like that, but right now I just know that I’m on the team,” he said. “I’m just going to go out here and practice and get ready for whatever I’m going to do.”