IRVING, Texas — Much has been made of Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein’s toughness this season.
But the team across the field in the Cotton Bowl tonight thinks its QB is just as tough as the Wildcats’ fearless leader.
Arkansas junior Tyler Wilson, like Klein, is the piece that makes the Razorbacks go. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Greenwood, Ark., has more than 3,400 passing yards this season with 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions, leading the SEC’s top-ranked offense in the toughest defensive conference in the country.
“We’ve seen him take some shots this year, shots that maybe could have been flags — helmet-to-helmet shots — but since I’ve been here, I’ve never heard him complain,” his right guard Alvin Bailey said Monday. “Even against Alabama, he took some hits that surprised me. And he never said a word about it, just went on to the next play.”
Wilson was only sacked twice in Arkansas’ 38-14 loss to Alabama back in September, but the charismatic QB took many, many more shots still resonate with his teammates.
“The whole Alabama game he was taking a lot of hits and he was getting up after every play,” senior receiver Joe Adams said. “He didn’t say anything, just called the next play and ran it. He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen, to be able to take the hits and get up with no real injuries to speak of.”
Wilson, in his first year as a starter, says he has a competitive gene that allows him to keep going when things get challenging.
“You don’t want to get off the field and you want to win,” he said. “You feel the pain more after the game than when it’s going on. But there’s not been a time when I said I wish I would have stayed down after that one.”
When asked about K-State’s Mr. Tough Guy, Klein, Wilson deferred to his counterpart.
“I think it’s an honor to be named with him as far as being a tough guy because I think he’s the definition of it with all his running around and doing stuff,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a unique deal for this game, two guys who take hits and keep getting up.”
Razorbacks’ safety Tramain Thomas loves the toughness of both Cotton Bowl QBs.
“They play a different style, but they’re both tough at the same time,” he said. “You’ll see Tyler stand in the pocket, make the throw and get hit under the chin. Then you’ll see Collin running linebackers over, safeties over and keep running. Both of those guys are very tough and both great competitors.”
Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who recruited Wilson to Fayetteville, said the toughness shown by his quarterback helps the entire team play at a higher level.
“Anytime your quarterback is tough, then everyone else around him plays off of him and that makes your whole offense better,” he said. “If your quarterback isn’t tough, then sometimes you struggle.
“If they’re tough, they’re going to follow him and everyone is going to play a little harder for him. His ability to stand in there and make plays makes everyone else that much tougher too.”
But getting his teammates to follow, or believe in him early on, didn’t come easy at first for Wilson, who had to sit behind Ryan Mallet the past three years.
“As a quarterback, there’s not a whole lot of time to show your toughness on the practice field because you’re not allowed to get hit,” he said. “It’s hard to earn the guys’ respect, so when it comes to the games — 13 games a year — you want to give your best shot and show your toughness.”
Arkansas’ previous coach Houston Nutt had not recruited Wilson. That quickly changed when new Razorbacks’ head coach Bobby Petrino and his brother Paul begin sifting through stacks of tapes for kids to possibly recruit.
“The previous staff was preparing for the Cotton Bowl and me and Bob were in a backroom looking at all kinds of tapes — they hadn’t been recruiting Tyler, actually,” Paul said. “I started going through the tapes, one at a time, and I got to Tyler’s and said to Bob, ‘Hey, you need to come watch this kid.’
“We both took a look, liked what we saw and that afternoon I got in the car and drove down and saw him the next day.”
The offensive coordinator visited with Wilson and his father and then convinced them to come up to Fayetteville that weekend for an unofficial visit — even though Wilson had already verbally committed to play at Tulsa.
Wilson committed that day.
“He really excited,” Paul recalled. “When we walked in, you could see he that’s where he wanted to go. He probably wanted to the University of Arkansas his whole life, and you could tell it right away.”