GRIZ GRIT: UM Makes Right Move With Jimmy Wilson

By Beacon Staff

The recent news that Jimmy Wilson will return to the University of Montana football team provides yet another snippet of an example as to how sports is such a microcosm of life.

And predictably it has lit up message boards and given sports journalists something to write in the middle of a month when most of us are trying to squeeze in a bit of summer before the opening of fall camp next month.

There will be no lack of opinion on this decision as supporters initially surfaced the day the announcement occurred followed now by naysayers who are drumming up every speculative occurrence from the time Wilson originally arrived on the UM campus as reason for him not to return.

One thing is for sure, as his stats indicate: Jimmy Wilson was a terrific football player with All-American credentials and a penchant for making huge hits in key situations that often impacted game results.

And to his credit, and that of former head coach Bobby Hauck, who kept in contact, and the UM administration including, of course, new coach Robin Plfugrad, he’ll get a chance to continue his athletic ventures. The NCAA ruled that, because of unusual circumstances, he can complete his eligibility even though his five-year clock had expired.

For the record, Wilson’s first trial for murder ended in a hung jury, but one that voted 11-1 for his acquittal. In his retrial, the jury determined that he acted in self defense in the death of a man who allegedly was assaulting his aunt outside her Lancaster, Calif., home.

Unusual circumstances indeed, but after being incarcerated for nearly two years, Wilson was released and, after what I’m sure was a thorough investigation, was supported by the University of Montana in his NCAA appeal to finish his collegiate football career.

I do not have a personal relationship with Wilson, now 23, who started six games as a true freshman in 2004 after a stellar prep career at Point Loma High School in San Diego, but his three-year Griz stats are impressive.

He played in 41 straight games, registering 140 tackles and eight interceptions on teams that lost nine games, one in the 2004 title game and another in 2006 in the semi-final contest.

An honorable mention all-league choice as a sophomore in 2005 when he returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown at Northern Arizona University and intercepted a pass for a score at Sacramento State University while making a career-high 11 tackles at Idaho State University, it seemed going into the 2006 season Wilson might have the tools to play at the next level.

Hauck described him as one of the best cornerbacks he’d had the opportunity to coach.

“He’s confident. He’s tough. And he’s an engaging young man to be around,” he said prior to the 2006 season.

My question is why don’t folks believe Wilson deserves a second chance?

The justice system ran its course – albeit predictable lengthy – and after a decision of his peers Wilson was ruled innocent of the charges against him.

What UM officials did was exactly what they needed to do: Let him finish his career where he started it. In my mind, returning to Missoula simply is a continuation of what he was doing after a tragic event altered his course.

Not to allow him the opportunity to complete three semesters and obtain a sociology degree would have been the wrong way to proceed.

There is no doubt, like many who came before him, Wilson had other problems “downtown” during his UM tenure and I’m sure that weighed on any decision to allow him to return. But I’m confident with the decision and pleased he’ll have the opportunity to contribute to future Grizzly successes on the field.

Hopefully, and I’m confident of this as well, he’ll follow the example of the majority of athletes on and off the field.

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