2012 MEAC/SWAC CHALLENGE LEGENDS
Representing: Howard University
As a wide receiver turned defensive back, Steve Wilson’s collegiate and professional football life has had many twists and turns—similar to the position he’d end up playing in the NFL for a decade.
“Howard University was a big part of my life,” said Wilson, who enrolled at Howard in 1975 as marketing major. “I played my high school football in Durham, North Carolina. I didn’t know about Howard University at the time. They weren’t a football power. When I got there people were talking about the long list of graduates who had done great things in all walks of life. I said, ‘Wow, this is where I’m going?’ ”
It didn’t take Wilson long to add his name to that list. Initially a wingback for the Bison, Wilson became one of the team’s most explosive players, setting the single season records for touchdowns (with 12), receiving yards (1,339) and receptions (94).
“We played some good football during those days,” Wilson recalls. “I played against some great players. I remember going to South Carolina State to face [NFL Hall of Famer] Harry Carson. Then, I had to go up to Maryland Eastern Shore and play against Carl Hairston who played 17 years in the NFL. Then, I had to play against Dwaine Board from North Carolina A&T who later played for San Francisco 49ers.”
After graduating in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Wilson set his sights on the NFL—but the phone didn’t ring. Not at first. “I came to the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie,” Wilson said. “They already had some good wide receivers like Drew Pearson, Tony Hill and Butch Johnson. They had won a Super Bowl in 1978 and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 in the Super Bowl. But I made the team in 1979.”
With that solid core already in place, Wilson was the odd man out—at wide receiver, anyway—which prompted his Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry to move the versatile Wilson to defensive back. “It was tough, but I was able to make the transition,” said Wilson, who played two seasons in Dallas before being traded to Denver where he played some wide receiver, but was mostly DB. In 1988—his 10th and final year in the league—Wilson helped Denver get to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Washington Redskins, whose starting quarterback, Doug Williams, who could do no wrong that day.
“Doug Williams was a great quarterback,” said Wilson, whose Broncos would lose 42-10 that day. “That day he was completing passes all over the field.”
After retiring from the NFL, Howard University wasted little time in bringing Wilson back to the program, hiring him in 1989. Even with no prior coaching experience, Wilson had a plan that would ultimately take the Bison football program to next level.
“We were going to run a pro-style offense,” Wilson said. “And, we were going to develop a pro-style quarterback; our quarterbacks were going to be special. Of course, we had two great ones in Jay Walker and Ted White.”
Success came early for Wilson, who was named the MEAC Coach of the Year in 1989 with an 8-3 record. Walker would lead his undefeated ’93 team to prominence, and was named Division I-AA Offensive Player of the Year, while White carried the Bison to a ’96 Black College National Championship with a 10-2 record, throwing for 36 touchdowns that year. Both signal callers played in the NFL, and Wilson is proud to have played a role in their development, as he has for others—including Gary “Flea” Harrell, now the Bison head coach.
“I’m really proud of these guys. It’s good to see Jay Walker and all these guys doing well. Ted White is on Flea’s staff. We had Sean Vanhorse, Marques Douglas and Tracy White who played in the NFL. Actually, Tracy is still in the league. Plus, we have some guys who have gone into coaching—like Jeff Hamilton, who is the offensive coordinator at Stanford who coached Andrew Luck. That’s really good for the program.”
Wilson left Howard in 2001 having compiled 78-40 record. He worked as a defensive coordinator at Bowie State before moving on to Texas Southern as head coach from 2004 to 2007. Wilson is currently working with high school football coaches in Durham, N.C. as a consultant.
“I enjoy working with the high school coaches,” said 55-year-old Wilson. “I try to share my knowledge with them. I may get back into coaching. If not, I can look back on some great years.”