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Wilson brings more than just height to FSU’s WR room

Florida State’s transfers have often had a connection to Mike Norvell or an assistant coach going back to when they were recruits. Or they wanted to come back close to home and play college football.

Johnny Wilson’s connection came from watching Arizona State games and seeing how Norvell, then an offensive coordinator, coached one of their taller receivers nearly a decade ago.

“I remember when Coach Norvell used to coach at ASU and he was coaching a receiver, Jaelen Strong, that I used to watch a lot,” Wilson said of the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Strong. “He was a bigger receiver. He was always making those big-time plays, contested catches, everything. So that is kind of what started it. I used to watch a lot of college football back at that time too. So I knew Coach Norvell was calling the plays and like I said, that was a great offense. He went to Memphis, too, and when I saw how Anthony Miller was developed, putting numbers up, I was like, ‘Wow, I can see myself being in an offense like that.’ So when he reached back to me, and we got to talking for like two, three hours on the phone, I got to really hear what I can do in this offense too. So it made me excited.”

Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, is like most players in that he is seeking an opportunity to show what he can offer. Playing time at Arizona State was limited for a variety of reasons.

“My freshman year, we only had a four-game season (due to COVID),” Wilson said. “I felt like there wasn’t really much I could do. I could show, be able to show what I can do in those four games. The second year as well I only got to play in the first four or five games, I missed the rest of the season due to injury, and I just want to play the full season and do what I can to help this team win games and I want to go to playoffs. I want to go win a natty. That’s what I’m trying to do. Coming in here I already know if I can show what I can do, if I could get myself out there on the field, if I just get the opportunity, I feel like I can do some great things here and help this team win.”

Wilson caught 12 passes for 154 yards in five games last fall (limited by a hamstring injury that he said is fully healed) and it’s clear the 6-foot-7 receiver offers a wide catch radius as well as a blocker who could extend plays for running backs and other receivers. In high school, he was a tough one-on-one matchup, accumulating 187 receptions for 3,032 yards and 43 touchdowns in four seasons at Calabasas (Calif.) High.

In high school, Wilson was teammates with Mycah Pittman, who played at Oregon for a few seasons before transferring to FSU. Once Wilson went in the portal, Pittman turned into a recruiter and helped sell FSU to his friend.

“It’s great to have, when you’ve been around someone so long and built that chemistry, around you,” Pittman said. “Especially at a new place. He’s been key in my adapting to Florida State, too. We’re adapting together. It’s really cool to have him around. I know he’s a great player, he can move for how big he is and stuff like that. Takes a lot of stress off me. If I’m out there balling, it’ll help him get the rock, too.”

Wilson was interested and followed Norvell on Twitter, which began the discussion. Norvell played receiver in high school and began his coaching career leading that position, too. He made an impression on Wilson by insisting that he would help maximize his potential.

“He also made a promise to me, he said, ‘I’m not gonna let you be an average receiver, I’m not gonna let you be a bad receiver. I’m gonna force you to be great,’ ” Wilson recalled. “And that really stood out to me. I like that. I want to be pushed. I motivate myself but I like to have it from the people around me.”

Said Norvell: “We’re thrilled to have Johnny join us. He has a great combination of size and speed and is a matchup problem at wide receiver. He has played a lot of football in college but is still young with an opportunity to grow and develop. He battled through injuries this past year, but we are excited about his play-making ability.”

Wilson is one of the tallest receivers in recent FSU history, taller than Greg Carr (6-6), Kelvin Benjamin (6-5), Auden Tate (6-5) or Rodney Smith (6-5). He stated the obvious about what he brings to FSU’s revitalized receiver room, which includes transfers Winston Wright Jr. (West Virginia), Deuce Spann (Illinois) and Pittman. While he is one of seven receivers who is 6-foot-2 or taller, Wilson said his skill set is more than just a discussion of his height.

“Just off the bat, I bring size, I bring physicality,” Wilson said. “I bring effort. I’m always gonna play to the whistle, to the end of the game, fourth quarter. I’m a hard worker. And ultimately, I just want to focus on getting stronger, getting faster while I’m here. Since I’ve been here, it’s been like three weeks, I’ve already felt myself getting stronger, getting faster. The strength program that they have here is great. It’s been very beneficial for the short amount of time that I’ve been here already.”

Wilson also has had to adjust to the intensity of FSU’s strength and conditioning program as well as the Tour of Duty workouts, which are led by Josh Storms. Norvell promised he would force Wilson to be great. And Norvell’s motto has revolved around the word work.

“The first week here it was like a shock to my body almost,” Wilson said. “I felt like I’ve never lifted like that before. Like how they lifted here. I never ran how I ran here when I got here. It was just like a big shock. Then after kind of like the first week of going through it, the second week I came back and I didn’t expect myself to do as good as I was doing in the weight room. I was pushing my weight. I was going up. I saw a great improvement in just like the first week of me being there and then going on to the second and third. Coach Storms does a great job of getting his guy’s strong and getting his guys healthy. I’ve seen great improvement already and I’m excited to see where this lands me.”