It was scorching hot on the practice fields. Players were reaching for water and grabbing at their blue shorts while staring at the ground.
And Terry Wilson would be the one clapping his hands and urging his new Kentucky teammates to keep pushing.
“When I was tired, he was front of the line, never stepped back,” tight end C.J. Conrad said of Kentucky’s newly named starting quarterback. “He was impressive all summer and to this point. That’s what I’ve been most impressed with, just his demeanor.”
Wilson got senior wide receiver Dorian Baker’s attention by blowing up his phone to throw at 9 and 10 o’clock at night, just to build chemistry.
It could’ve been an awkward introduction for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback from Oklahoma City, Okla., who arrived at UK via a junior college in Kansas after leaving Oregon following a redshirt season.
Wilson made sure it wasn’t uncomfortable early on even as he tried to learn the offense and figure out what coaches wanted from him.
“He didn’t come in to force his way to take the job,” Conrad said. “He really was patient and took every practice day by day.”
It took time and patience for Wilson to learn the offense. But he worked at it.
“He really did a good job of studying and just diving into the offense, coming in after hours, coming in and sucking it all up,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said.
“He got really familiar with the offense, he understands it,” Hinshaw continued. “He’s much more confident in the offense than he was in January, and I’m really proud of him learning and getting himself ready to play.”
In his first interviews since being named the starter for Saturday’s season opener against Central Michigan, Wilson said he can see huge growth just watching his own film from January to August.
He can see why Hinshaw was on him to stay in the pocket and play like he’s in a phone booth, not a stadium.
“I feel like I got more comfortable with the offense,” Wilson said of his own film study. “I got the chemistry with the wideouts and it’s just started showing. We’ve started connecting. It took a while to get it clicking. I just wanted it to all happen in the spring, but it takes some time.”
It’s a story of patience he’s had to learn many times over as a sort of nomad for the past couple of seasons, finally landing at a place he’d hoped to win a starting job.
In his six months at Garden City Community College, Wilson threw for 2,133 yards and 26 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He ran for 518 yards and five touchdowns on 126 carries, too.
Being at junior college was good for him, Wilson said.
“I just always had to keep in my mind that I’ve got this chip on my shoulder wherever I end up at,” he said. “Once I got here, I just kept that chip on my shoulder and worked hard and good things happened.”
Among those good things are a chance to play with a veteran offense that returns every starter on the offensive line except for at left tackle, where the Cats took an unfortunate hit last week when they lost starter Landon Young for the season.
Wilson has the Southeastern Conference’s leading returning rusher by his side in Benny Snell. And there’s a host of experience around him in guys like Baker and Conrad. Wilson’s excited about helping all of them make plays.
“Those guys are veterans and it’s just an honor to play with those guys,” he said. “Those guys are great players on the field and off the field. I’m just ready to play with them, they’re going to take a lot off my shoulders.”
Those same guys are excited to play with Wilson, too, especially after this summer. It was a memorable one for the starting quarterback, too.
“I pushed them because I feel like we should all be out here giving our all,” he said. “It starts then so we can execute on Saturdays. I feel like that’s where I got my respect from those guys and they see me pushing them and wanting them to be better.”