Ex-Giants RB Wilson set to make pro debut in triple jump

NEW YORK (AP) His football career cut short, David Wilson found competition anywhere he could: pool, Uno, Connect Four.

Now he finally gets to compete for real for the first time since his final NFL game in October 2013. The former New York Giants running back is set to make his pro debut in track and field in the triple jump at Saturday's Adidas Grand Prix.

The meet is part of the Diamond League, the sport's top series. Among the other athletes scheduled to take part in the annual event on Randall's Island, east of upper Manhattan, is Usain Bolt.

While Wilson talks about getting his feet wet, his goals are anything but modest. He hopes to qualify for this summer's U.S. championships in what will be his only chance to do so. And just 14 months away, he aims to not only reach the 2016 Rio Olympics but win a medal there.

A state champion triple jumper in high school, Wilson finished sixth at the NCAA meet in 2011 for Virginia Tech despite not training full time. So when a neck injury forced him to retire from the NFL at age 23 in August, Wilson quickly settled on track and field when he contemplated what else he was good at.

Wilson has been working at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. He practices with Will Claye, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, getting a firsthand tutorial on how to excel in the sport.

Wilson's personal best is 52 feet, 6 3/4 inches. He's hoping for a jump of more than 53-9 on Saturday to get him into the U.S. championships, which start June 25. Even more ambitiously, Wilson would like to top 55 feet as a Father's Day gift to his dad.

Cuba's Pedro Pablo Pichardo has the top personal best in the field at 59-4.

Wilson figures he has plenty of room to improve if he dedicates himself to triple jumping. At Virginia Tech, he would often arrive late to track workouts because of football practice.

''Anybody that sees me jump, they're like, `You muscle the whole thing.' It's not much technique to my jump,'' he said.

Not only can he hone his technique, but simple repetition can make a massive difference.

''To something as precise as triple jump, it definitely takes time to get good and to create the muscle memory,'' Wilson said.

In high school and college, there was never any doubt football should be his first priority. A highly rated recruit, Wilson set the single-season rushing record at Virginia Tech.

But he needed a challenge in the offseason and wasn't good at basketball. With the Hokies, he accepted the risk of injury and got permission from football coach Frank Beamer to become a two-sport star.

''He is just that competitive,'' said his college jumps coach, Charles Foster.

The Giants drafted him in the first round, 32nd overall, in 2012, and as a rookie, Wilson led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,533 kickoff return yards. But he was hurt only five games into his second season, when an MRI showed that Wilson had a narrowing of the spinal cord. He underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair vertebrae and a herniated disk in his neck.

Back on the field at the start of training camp last summer, Wilson caught a pass during a drill, put his head down and ran into the back of an offensive lineman. That hit caused numbness in his hands and lower extremities.

Doctors agreed it would be best for Wilson to quit football. Triple jumping poses no risk because there's no contact.

He misses football, for sure. The camaraderie of teamwork can't be replicated in an individual sport. Wilson describes the ache this way: getting dumped by someone you love.

Yet that won't dim his sunny disposition.

''If you're living for one thing, most of the time you're not living,'' Wilson said. ''You should have plenty of reasons you're living and plenty of reasons to wake up every day and work for something.''

He relishes the personal responsibility of track. No quarterback to overthrow a pass. No lineman to miss a block. No coach to call the wrong play.

''It's you. You stepped up there,'' he said. ''You laced up your shoes and you did what you had to do.''

The first challenge of his new sport: losing weight. Wilson played at about 210 pounds, but now he's competing against rivals in the 140-170 range. He's down to 189 and hopes to reach 180-185 pounds.

Saturday will be his first track meet since 2011. He has yet to try a full 12-step approach in practice. When he recently went eight steps, jumping 51 feet, he strained his right hamstring.

That left Wilson running out of time to try to qualify for the U.S. championships. This weekend is the last chance. Then he realized there is a meet in New York. What better place to open his second career than the city of his first?

Giants receiver Rueben Randle is among the former teammates he expects to attend.

Wilson says: ''When I make the Olympic team ...'' It's not an arrogant boast but the mentality required to reach the highest level of any sport.

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