The last thing Marco Wilson wants is to have his picture taken. He was called out of the University of Florida locker room, a hollow of frustration, bewildered grief, and maybe a few dagger-like glances in his direction. The Florida-LSU game is long over, but Wilson is still going strong and coming off a black eye. He finds his family at the 30-yard line, not far from where hundreds of memes are thrown.

Wilson’s grandmothers are there, as are his parents. They risked contact with COVID-19 because they didn’t want to miss the junior cornerbacks’ last game in the swamp. They hold up homemade, spray-painted, carved letters that spell out M-A-R-K-O. They don’t know that Marco just cried in the locker room, or that his phone exploded with poisonous messages accusing him of ruining the Gators’ chances of winning a national championship.

We need to get him out of here. He pulls his face up and looks at the camera. The fog that enveloped the stadium in the second half lingered in the background, adding to the illusion of night. But this is no dream. On the 12th. December 2020, 4 1/2 months before the NFL Draft, Wilson just made the biggest mistake of his football career.

A saddened Marco Wilson tried to smile to take a photo with the Grammys after the last game at The Swamp. Courtesy Florida

It looked like a movie script, Wilson’s father Chad said last week when his wife Carmen sent him photos of what could be the strangest night of the 2020 college football season. Marco Wilson did what should have saved the game, but then he threw an opponent’s shoe and three officials brought out flags for unsportsmanlike conduct. Another attempt resulted in an incredible 57-yard field goal for LSU over the pea shooter’s paradise.

The impact was so great that Wilson said he received death threats and racist remarks on social media. (He chose not to inform the police.) The Internet gang even contacted his girlfriend, Madia Harriott, a defender on the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, and stalked her on Instagram. When asked when the Trolls finally fired him, Wilson said: Oh no, it’s still on.

Wilson returns to Gainesville on Wednesday to participate in Florida’s Pro Day. He didn’t talk much about the night against LSU and hopes his performance, along with that of Kyle Pitts, Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney, who are expected to be selected on Day 1, will shift the NFL Draft conversation from what he did on a Saturday night in the draft to what he can do on Sunday.

He wants to show the closing speed and the physical and mental skills that have made him the captain of the team. In the end, Wilson didn’t break the law and didn’t hurt anyone but the legions of Gator fans. He threw the boat 20 yards down the field.

But inevitably he will have to prove to coaches, scouts and team personnel that he can be trusted. His childhood friend and bandmate, Elijah Moore, proved it was possible.

I tell them it’s a great lesson, Wilson said.

I’ll just tell them what happened.

ODDSMAKERS Florida-LSU is not expected to be a heavy favorite in this contest, making the Gators three-touchdown favorites. But Wilson was shaken up all day. He has already decided to enter the NFL Draft and wants to make his last home game a memorable one.

But the night began with bad news: Pitts, their super talented tight end, was out with a nagging injury. The Gators were down 27-17, but the defense stopped them in the second half – an unusual turnaround for a team that has led its potent offense to an 8-1 record.

By the fourth quarter, a thick fog had lifted. Cornerback Kayyir Elam and others in the stadium will say they’ve never seen anything like it. It was like a fucking Michael Bay movie, Elam said. It was great. I thought something was on fire.

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LSU quarterback Max Johnson made his first college start and was down 34-34 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

On a third-and-10, Johnson passed to Cole Taylor in the flat, and Wilson and Trevez Johnson made quick work of it. Taylor tried to put weight on it, but Johnson grabbed it and Wilson, who was on his knees, grabbed Taylor’s legs. They stopped him from 6 yards on a first down, and for a moment Wilson helped save the game. But at the end of the tackle, Taylor’s size 14 Nike hit Wilson’s arm.

Wilson was delighted, but surprised. In 15 years of football, he’s never held another person’s shoe.

With such energy, what did they expect? Wilson said. Like I’m gonna give him credit? I was very excited and threw it in. I didn’t do it on purpose, it was just a reaction. That’s far enough. I mean, I didn’t think it would come to this. But here’s the thing.

This might have gone unnoticed if it were a simple matter. But the shoe went at least 20 feet and almost hit the cop.

Referee James Carter awarded the penalty.

After the game, unsportsmanlike conduct… He throws the shoe of an LSU player from 20 yards out. This is his first unsportsmanlike foul of the game. First automatic test.

Florida cornerback Marco Wilson made a key tackle in the final minutes of the game that decided the game. What he did next is what people have been talking about ever since. The Brad McClennie-USA Network today.

About 20 rows above the LSU bench, Chad and Carmen Wilson couldn’t see some things, but they did see the tackle, the throw and the subsequent flags. As soon as the red-hot shoe broke through the air, Chad Wilson took a deep breath. Meanwhile, Marco tried to talk to his teammates. Yo, I made a mistake, he told them. Let’s try to make one more stop.

The alligators couldn’t. LSU covered another 17 yards in five plays before Cade York scored on an obscure 57-yard field goal. With each development, Chad Wilson felt worse and worse. Florida drove 42 yards in 21 seconds and kicked a 51-yard field goal to tie the game. But the shot went wide and Wilson sat alone on the bench after the game, knowing he had let his team down.

He finally got up, took his last step off the Florida bench, and went into the locker room, where he found his teammates much more forgiving than he had expected. But deep down he knew they were angry.

I was disappointed with the game, but I wasn’t mad at him, Elam said. I could probably get angry and make the same stupid mistake. But we still had a chance to win the game.

Wilson returned to his apartment in Gainesville, and his parents and grandparents followed him for a quiet dinner of Bahama Breeze chicken macaroni.

But before he left the stadium, someone shouted something at him from the stands.

Marco! Don’t go on Twitter!

This would never have happened if Wilson had followed his instincts a year earlier. Wilson, 20, not far removed from his second ACL injury, has spent a month pondering whether he would sign up for the 2020 NFL Draft.

He had just finished a season with three interceptions, and his father said they had heard predictions for the second or third round. Teammate C.J. Henderson had already announced he was going pro, and Wilson was intrigued by the idea of going into the league with his good friend.

I felt really ready to go play at the next level, Wilson said, but I wanted to come back and do more. I wanted to try to go to the SEC championship. I really wanted to beat Georgia, because I didn’t want to lose 0-3 to those guys.

Marco Wilson had 103 tackles and three interceptions in Florida’s 36 games. AP Photo/Lynn Sladki

The 6th. In January 2020, Wilson tweeted that he would return to Florida for his junior season. In addition to the alligator emoji at the end of the tweet, he typed the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, which reads: For I know the plans I have for you, plans of prosperity and not of adversity, to give you a future and hope.

Two months later, a coronavirus pandemic struck. The Gators spent the next few months wondering if there would be a season, and that uncertainty weighed on Wilson. The 30th. In July, the SEC announced it would play a 10-game schedule starting in late September.

Expectations were high in Gainesville. The Gators are fifth in the country to start the season. But Florida lost 41-38 at Texas A&M in the third week of the season. The defense allowed 543 yards on the ground, but fans hung on to Wilson, who allowed several big plays.

A few days later, the team received a result of positive COVID-19 testing and went into quarantine, leaving Wilson without football and alone with his negative thoughts. At the request of his girlfriend and father, Wilson began writing a journal.

He said it allowed him to talk to himself and get the right message across.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health when it comes to playing football, Wilson said. I realized that I know who I am and that the people who speak ill of me do not know me personally.

Wilson has set the bar very high for his first season. He became the fourth cornerback in Gators history to start on Day 1, joining the ranks of Joe Hayden, Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Roberson. He led the team with 10 interceptions, but tore his ACL in Week 2 against Kentucky the following year. During his rehabilitation, he listed the SEC’s academic honors.

He returned in 2019 and started all 13 games, collected 23 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and those three interceptions. Then there were the ups and downs of 2020, making Wilson a confusing prospect.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay rated Wilson for the fourth round. He’s six feet tall and weighs 187 pounds. NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms was recently ranked as the sixth cornerback in the draft.

I think, from a talent standpoint, he’ll probably be second- or third-round, McShay said of Wilson, a Cotton Bowl pick. It has a very wide range. He plays aggressively. He uses his body, he does the little things. Athletic and fast, he is very talented.

Two major problems with his game, from the data I’ve studied, is that he doesn’t have good ball control. Even though he’s there to cover people, he doesn’t often make big play situations. And another big problem is his ability to solve problems.

Elam, who says Wilson was his mentor, admits Wilson’s 2019 season was statistically better. When you play corner, you have ups and downs, Elam said. But Marco worked like crazy. I feel like he’s gotten a lot better. He’s more mature now. I get the impression he doesn’t care what people think. All he wants is to go out there and prove himself.

After a disappointing game against Texas A&M, Marco Wilson began writing in the paper to squelch the negativity he read on social media. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Wilson was born to be a miser. Father Chad Wilson played cornerback during the University of Miami’s heyday in the 1990s and was a teammate of Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp and Dwayne Rock Johnson. Chad makes his living coaching and training cornerbacks. He recently worked out in Arizona with Marco and former Alabama star cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who is expected to be selected in the first round.

Marco’s older brother, Quincy, is a cornerback for the New York Giants.

Chad and Carmen wanted their sons to play baseball, partly because it was safer and more profitable. But Marco and Quincy would have their own ideas. Marco was so passionate at the age of 5 that he always fought his opponents, not knowing that in flag football you shouldn’t do that.

But he also had a softer side. When he was 2 or 3 years old, he regularly brought flowers to his mother. The fact that the flowers are from the neighbor’s garden is a bit of a problem, and Carmen tried to politely ask him to stop.

She said he always listened to people’s feelings. If he saw you sad, he would say: Why are you sad today? He had a sensitive side.

Wilson attended American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida, a private school that has produced Division I cornerbacks and won five state championships in the last eight years. He was coached by Patrick Stein Sr. and Chad was an assistant. When Wilson was a sophomore, he gave up a late touchdown in a rare Heritage loss.

He recorded the video, took a picture of the work and hung it in his room.

His athletic ability is obvious, the senior captain said. He is a very, very good roofer who is not afraid to go out and get the job done. He did well.

While his older brother Quincy was quieter as a teenager, Marco had endless energy and did parkour, corkscrews and backflips. In a YouTube video from 2013, when Wilson was 14, he jumps over his parents’ Pontiac sedan.

Marco Wilson, who expected to turn pro after the 2019 season, finally beat Georgia in his final season in Gainesville. AP Photo/John Rau

In college, he chose Florida over USC, not because his brother was a Gator, but because he thought the coaches could make him the player he wanted to be, an NFL cornerback.

Before Marco arrived in Gainesville, Quincy announced the 2017 NFL Draft and was projected as a first-round pick. The family rented the conference room of the Marriott in Fort Lauderdale for the occasion, and dozens of people showed up. But Quincy hadn’t heard his name called that first night.

He was horrified when he left the party that night, but the hotel offered them a free room for the next day.

He was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 46th pick. and in a sign that he would not take this moment as seriously as the day before, Quincy arrived that day wearing a jersey. It had a poop emoji on it and underneath, the word comes.

It happens.

Marco watched his brother on selection day and imagined his own future. Quincy tried to prepare him for what was to come. He warned Marco to be prepared for anything during the team meetings. Quincy told his brother that the Bears had at least six missed tackles from his junior year at Florida and asked him what happened to each of them. At the end of the conversation, Quincy said he thought, well, hell, I’m not going to Chicago. Quincy knows his brother is struggling with other problems.

But how much will the war boot incident of 2021 weigh? Randy Mueller, former general manager of the Dolphins and Saints, said he first wanted to know if it was a one-time slip-up. He would also like to talk to her about the incident.

I don’t know if the map on [my] board changes based on that, Mueller said. I will say this – this man has skills. He can run, he can move, he plays inside, he plays outside. There is a lot of versatility in his game that I would like to see.

He may be better equipped not to make that kind of mistake than others who never thought of it. I guess we all learn from experience, right?

Elijah Moore perhaps knows better than anyone what it’s like to be in Marco Wilson’s shoes. Photography/Rogelio V. Solis.

MARCO WILSON went to South Florida with former Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore. They were childhood friends who went to college separately. In the 2019 Thanksgiving Egg Bowl, Moore ran into the end zone and scored a potentially decisive touchdown with 4 seconds left against rival Mississippi State. Then he got on all fours, lifted his leg and pretended to pee like a dog.

Moore was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, which set back the extra point attempt 15 yards. The kick went wide and the Rebels lost 21-20 to the Bulldogs.

He apologized in a statement the next day, but it didn’t matter. Moore, who was 19 at the time, was dishonored. T-shirts will be printed at the celebration: Ol Piss.

Moore said Ole Miss’ hostile fans have called him everything from [N-word] to a criminal.

People threatened my family and said they would kill me. I’ve even received messages. I don’t know how they got my number.

A year later, he played against LSU-Florida but was rejected. After the game, he went to Twitter and saw that his old friend Marco Wilson was trending. Oh, my God, he thought.

He watched the shoe video, read all the taunts, and decided to wait until the next day to report back. The next day, he sent her a message on Snapchat, telling her not to worry, to pray and believe that everything would be okay. They talked a few more times.

Last week, Moore participated in Ole Miss Day for Professionalism. He ran a record time of 4.32 seconds for the 40-yard dash, which could make him a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

I’ll be very honest with you, Moore says, after [the urination incident] I had no idea what was going to happen next. I just knew what to do. I put my head down and continued to work, praying and leaving everything to God.

Moore said every team he spoke with asked him about the incident, but it wasn’t a major part of the conversation. He says it has made him a better person and a better player. He thinks the same about Wilson: Four months after the accident, Wilson is mentally strong and healthy.

Marco is going to kill his pro, Moore said. You’re looking. He’s going to crush her.

I think if he makes it to the league, he’ll get three times as many points as he did in college.

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