Battle With Tar Heels is Personal for Wolfpack's Wilson
Every football player wants to get back onto the field as quickly as possible after an injury.
Payton Wilson, however, had even more incentive than most to return to action after missing NC State's game against Louisville two weeks ago with an upper body issue.
As a native of the Chapel Hill area who originally committed to North Carolina before deciding to play for the Wolfpack, Wilson desperately wanted to be in ready and able to face the Tar Heels in Saturday's season finale at Carter-Finley Stadium.
"I've been waiting for this game for awhile," said Payton, who missed most of his senior season at Orange High and all of last year at State with multiple knee injuries. "I live so close to there and when I decommitted there was a lot of hate and stuff. So I'm just ready to play them."
Wilson will get that opportunity after returning to action for last week's game at Georgia Tech. Although he is listed as the backup to starter Brock Miller at the BUC linebacker position, he figures to see plenty of action after being on the field for 33 snaps in the 28-26 loss to the Yellow Jackets.
A hard-hitting 6-foot-4, 240-pounder, Wilson has been one of the few bright spots for the Wolfpack (4-7, 1-6 ACC) in a season that has fallen off a cliff during the second half of the schedule. He currently ranks second on the team with 56 tackles, including five for losses.
As badly as things have gone for the Wolfpack, which has already been eliminated from bowl contention, the offseason won't seem quite as bleak if State can pull off a win against its rival and keep UNC (5-6, 3-4) out of the postseason as well.
Wilson is especially stoked up for the game because of the relationships he previously developed while being recruited by the Tar Heels
"I was cool with some of them, but I don't really talk to anybody over there now because I've been here so long," Wilson said. "I'm excited to play them and excited to beat them."
Coach Dave Doeren said Wilson has had a good week of practice so far and he's confident that the young linebacker is "going to play hard." But then, he said he's expect that from his players no matter who State is playing.
"When you kick the ball off, it’s still going to be about executing," Doeren said. "No matter what the jersey is the guy has on across, you’ve got to do your job."
After all the injuries he's endured in his still-young career and as long as he's waited to line up against the Tar Heels, Wilson is just glad to be healthy and back on the field for Saturday's game.
"I'm healthy. I'm back. I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm still a little sore, but I'm okay."