INDIANAPOLIS — Character.
The word gets invoked repeatedly with regard to prospects for the NFL draft, a catch-all term used to cover a broad range of off-the-field issues that don’t concern a player’s size, speed or ability to beat press coverage.
But before Marquess Wilson gets asked about any question concerning his character, it’s important to remember that he is has not been accused of a crime. He did not fail a drug test, either, nor did he fight with a teammate.
He simply decided on Nov. 4 that he didn’t want to keep playing football under Mike Leach at Washington State, and he released a letter six days later alleging abuse. For that, he will spend the better part of this weekend at the league’s annual scouting combine explaining to potential employers just why he left the Cougars.
“I’m just going to tell the truth,” Wilson said, “and (they’ll) see my character through that. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Wilson is one of 333 college players attending the league’s most thorough, most comprehensive pre-draft examination. Every year, players come to Indianapolis seeking to distance themselves from earlier missteps, whether it’s cornerback Tyrann Mathieu being dismissed from LSU’s team or Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree’s recent arrest for DUI.
Wilson didn’t do anything wrong per se, but it’s very possible that teams will be troubled by his departure from Washington State, wondering if he has the toughness and perseverance to succeed in professional football.
In a year considered deep in receivers, Wilson is a wild card. Some have pegged him as talented enough to be chosen in the first two rounds while others have wondered if he’ll get drafted at all.
Wilson was measured at 6 feet 2, weighed 194 pounds and hopes to be timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds on Sunday. He played less than three seasons at Washington State yet still finished with 3,207 yards receiving, the largest career total for any player in school history.
Yet it is Eastern Washington, and not the school he attended, where Wilson will work out for NFL scouts, holding his pro day in Cheney on March 6 in what is a geographic manifestation of the divorce from Washington State.
That’s why this week is so important for Wilson after he walked away from the Cougars, citing verbal, mental and physical abuse. The complaint initiated an investigation of the program, and while Leach subsequently claimed that Wilson backed down from his allegations, Wilson said Friday that’s not quite what he meant in his text message to WSU athletic director Bill Moos.
“I didn’t really recant it,” he said. “I was just trying to clarify and clear it up for everybody. To let them know I wasn’t trying to say that they were physically hitting us. That’s all I was trying to do with the text message I sent to Mr. Moos.”
So what will Wilson tell teams about why he left the team?
“Just the truth,” he said.
“The stuff they were doing, it wasn’t right,” Wilson said. “That’s all it was.”
What will Wilson say when he’s asked about Leach?
“I’m not going to bad-mouth him,” Wilson said. “I’m past that. I’m beyond it. There’s no reason for me to backtrack and bad-mouth him.”
And nearly three months after leaving the team, Wilson said he doesn’t regret his decision.
“Looking back at it, I wouldn’t change my mind,” he said. “I stuck with it, and I’ll still stick with it. That’s just the way I felt and the way I feel.”
Character. It’s something that isn’t a question in Wilson’s mind, but something he’s hoping to show to anyone who looks this weekend.
“The way I present myself will show my character,” he said. “It’s just the person I am. I’m a happy guy.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil