Kyle Wilson shined at Boise State. In his final two seasons, the solid-tackling cornerback from Piscataway, NJ, helped win 26 of 27 games by collecting eight interceptions and returning two for touchdowns. He also had 57 punt returns for a 12.6 average and scored three more times.
But then he stood out even more at the 2010 Senior Bowl.
"The Senior Bowl week for him, comparing him with the other corners was really special for him," said Joey Clinkscales, who was the Jets VP of College Scouting. "I mean, he played physical. He was very instinctive; his ball skills were great."
With All-Pros Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who was acquired in March 2010 through a trade with the Chargers, the Jets already had two great cornerbacks on their roster. But evidently what then-Head Coach Rex Ryan wanted, he got. And during the 2010 NFL Draft, he wanted Wilson.
And the Jets selected him in the first round.
"As I've said many times before, Rex has always asked for depth at the cornerback position, so between trading for Antonio Cromartie and now adding Kyle Wilson, we feel like we've done that," said Mike Tannenbaum, who was New York's General Manager.
"I literally had been playing football since I was seven. My high school career, I didn't really get recruited. But I had an awesome college career and just continued to get better," Wilson said.
"Because the Jets had traded for Antonio Cromartie, I wasn't thinking that they were going to bring in another corner. But it was just awesome to have the ability to go somewhere back home, and get closer to my family. I was definitely surprised and just pure joy. I know everybody was excited."
Penciled in as the starting nickelback and expected to compete for the punt returner spot, Wilson went to training camp with his eyes and ears open, and followed the lead of his new veteran teammates.
"Jim Leonhard, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace, he was a big one," Wilson said, "they definitely put in a lot of work off the field, in the film room, and taught me how to be a pro."
Which showed in his first game, the season-opener against Baltimore in front of 78,127 fans at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Monday Night Football. Despite being in the spotlight, Wilson approached the nationally-televised game like he'd done it before.
"You've got a job to do," said Wilson, who registered three solo tackles, two pass defenses, and a fumble recovery in the game. "You're a professional, so you can't spend that time to really enjoy it. Everybody's looking at you. You want to do well. And it's not easy what they're asking you to do, but I'm the right guy for the job. So that's how I looked at it."
Wilson collected his first interception in Week 7 the following season, when he picked off Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and had a 10-yard return in New York's 27-21 victory.
"I liked the coverage; it was sort of like a trap technique on the run. Didn't do necessarily so much of those, but I liked being aggressive. The ball was where it should have been. And it was awesome," laughed Wilson, who grabbed his second interception in Week 13 at Washington off of Rex Grossman.
With the Jets for five seasons, 2010-14, Wilson didn't miss a game and made 28 starts. Compiling three interceptions, 162 tackles, and 23 punt returns, what are among his fondest memories wearing the Green & White?
"The (2010) AFC Championship Game, that's definitely No. 1," said Wilson, who concluded his seven-year career with the New Orleans Saints. "Being drafted. And then, to be honest, too many countless memories with my teammates. That's what I really miss the most, those guys. We really did some special things. I love football, so those are really my fondest memories."
Retiring from the NFL in 2017, Wilson is married to his college sweetheart, Jamia, and make their home in Orlando, Florida. They have a daughter, Zena, 5; and a son, Knox, 2.
"Zena's in kindergarten. She does gymnastics, ballet, and has been doing jujitsu for about a year and a half now. That's actually how I started. I literally sat and watched for six months before I stopped making excuses and started practicing myself," Wilson laughed. "It's actually gotten me into really good shape. It's not a physical or anything, it's really more mental. I like it.
"And anytime I get around the game today, to coach, to scout, to evaluate, I have a lot of memories from my youth all the way to professional to go back from. But I'm at a different stage in my life. My No. 1 job is networking and being a dad right now. We'll see what happens in the future.
"I'm working on some coaching and scouting opportunities, but they're going to have to really be worth it to take me away from my family. Having the time to be around my kids, that really is the most important thing to me. I enjoy every single day. My highlights are making my kids breakfast and lunch, taking them to and picking them up from school, getting them to their afterschool activities, and actually being present. Not just making it happen, but actually being there. That's what I'm really grateful for."