WINTER GARDEN — Brandon Wilson used to be a quarterback.
The 6-foot-3 defensive end for the West Orange Warriors played the position growing up in North Carolina until the eighth grade. Tall for his age even then, Wilson was a natural fit, especially at the youth football level.
Wilson did have one qualm with playing the position, though — one slight complaint that ultimately led to his playing defense throughout his high school career.
“Well, after eighth grade, I didn’t like people hitting me like that (when I played quarterback), because I couldn’t do anything about it,” Wilson recalls. “I’d rather deliver the blow than take it, so that’s what I liked about playing defense.”
In his three years with the Warriors since his family moved to Florida, Wilson has delivered plenty of blows and has become the undeniable leader of West Orange’s defense.
“Every day, (Wilson) is trying to take his game to a higher level,” Warriors coach Bob Head said. “When we first got here (in 2013), I felt like he just wanted to play, he really didn’t focus in on the fundamentals. I think that he has really, really honed in on his technique.”
That newfound attention to detail was noticed by more than just Head. Wilson’s skill in chasing down ball carriers — combined with his size and speed — made him one of the most sought-after recruits in Central Florida. A senior, Wilson ended his recruiting process last week when he committed to the Virginia Cavaliers, a Division I program competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Wilson, who had scholarship offers from more than a dozen Division I programs — including Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Boston College and Cincinnati — decided on the Cavaliers because of location and opportunity.
“They’re in the ACC, they’re close to home (North Carolina),” Wilson said. “(Virginia) would be somewhere my family would be able to see me play. Plus, it’s a program I feel they can build.”
West Orange has been no stranger to putting kids in college programs over the past few years, and for Head, it’s a great feeling when one of his players earns a scholarship.
“Any time that you know a kid is going to college for free and (will be able) to play football, it’s a pretty awesome thing,” Head said. “Just developing those relationships and those ties (with an ACC program), it’s going to help not only Brandon Wilson, but it’s going to help other kids (from West Orange) in the future.”
For Wilson, having the recruiting process behind him is a relief after months of interacting with programs hoping for his commitment.
“(The recruiting process) was cool at first, like for the first few months, but then it started to get annoying,” Wilson said. “I’m not a rude person, so I always responded (to emails, calls and text messages from college coaches and reporters). … I can finally focus on my team now.”
The Warriors and their fans certainly will appreciate that focus, because things for the undefeated program are about to get real. West Orange (5-0) kicks off district play in Class 8A District 4 Oct. 3, at home against powerhouse Apopka.
“(Wilson’s play is) going to be huge,” Head said. “He has to be huge for us. If he’s not huge for us, we’re going to be in big trouble. … Him and our entire defense.”
That defense, often overshadowed by the Warriors’ depth of talented and dynamic playmakers on offense, will have the task of trying to contain an Apopka offense rattling off 45 points per game.
West Orange has dropped 15 consecutive games to the Blue Darters (4-1) since 1998, and this year’s game will likely decide the district champion — and perhaps even more, with the playoff implications that will follow.
Still, in his second year at the helm of the program, Head said he and his staff have taken a different approach toward this big game.
“Last year, we built (the Apopka game) up,” Head said. “We talked about them for three straight weeks before the game, and I felt like we were just too tight when we played the game. This year, we’ve got a different team, different attitude, (and) it’s just another day at work.”
Although Wilson and his pals on the defensive side of the ball certainly will have their hands full preparing for the game against the Blue Darters this week, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t daydreamed a bit about playing in front of 60,000-plus fans at Virginia’s Scott Stadium next fall.
“I’m excited about it,” Wilson said. “We get real good crowds here (at West Orange), but high school crowds are nothing compared to a college crowd. I’ll really be the first from my family to play at a big school like this — it’ll be special.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].