CLEVELAND — Garrett Wilson had his nerves and emotions in check the night before he made his NFL debut. He was surprised he didn’t have any butterflies or anything. On game day, though, he started to feel something.
It wasn’t nervousness. While living out one of his childhood dreams inside MetLife Stadium last Sunday, what the Jets’ rookie receiver felt was gratitude.
“It was definitely special, something I’ve dreamed of for 20 years,” Wilson told Newsday. “This has been my dream come true. Honestly, it was a lot when I got out there and took it all in. I almost broke a tear.
“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but it was really special to get my feet wet and get my first catch out of the way. Now I know it’s just football, the same sport I’ve been playing for 15 to 20 years. It was good for my confidence, and I feel like I’m ready to go.”
Wilson, the No. 10 pick in the draft, didn’t play as much as he would have liked in the Jets’ 24-9 loss to the Ravens. When he did, he showed some of the playmaking skills that made him an All-American at Ohio State and someone the Jets believe will make them more dynamic.
He played 41 snaps, which was less than half the plays the Jets’ offense ran (84), and caught four passes for 52 yards.
The game plan was to play multiple tight ends early. The Jets also struggled to sustain drives and were 0-for-6 on third downs in the first half.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said those things contributed to Wilson barely playing in the first half.
With the Jets behind by multiple possessions in the second half, Wilson saw more time on the field. He made a 19-yard grab on fourth-and-15 with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter to help set up the Jets’ only score of the game.
Wilson is expected to be more involved in the offense Sunday.
“The game is just not too big for him,” LaFleur said. “We can see how dynamic he is in the pass game. He is an awesome guy to coach.”
The Jets plan on using Wilson’s versatility and athleticism to their advantage. The former basketball player has excellent body control, can use his vertical leaping ability to make catches in traffic and excels at high-pointing the football (catching the ball at the peak of his jump).
LaFleur said Wilson still has to learn all of the different receiver positions and how to be effective when he’s not a target.
“He’s got to be able to operate every single play, not just the pass plays where he knows he’s getting the ball,” LaFleur said. “But also, when we’re running the ball, when he’s running fake sweeps and stuff like that.”
The 22-year-old is a perfectionist who has talked about sometimes being too hard on himself, but he took Robert Saleh’s criticism of his first NFL catch well.
Late in the first quarter, he made two tacklers miss with a series of moves but couldn’t get past a third and came up just short of the first down. Saleh wanted Wilson to juke less, lower his shoulder and fight for the extra yard.
Wilson understood Saleh’s criticism and walked away from the game confident that he will be able to make his mark in the NFL and with the Jets.
“The main thing I took was, Be me, man,” Wilson said. “Do what I do well and trust that you’re here because you belong here. There’s nothing superhuman you got to do, nothing special you have to do. They go to practice, put their football pants on just like the rest of us. Just trust in your ability, know that you’re up here for a reason. It’s just ball. It’s just ball. Just play.”
Wilson is looking forward to playing Sunday in front of many family, friends and people who cheered him on at Ohio State. He lived in Columbus, Ohio, before moving to Texas with his family when he was 11.
“It’s going to be special,” Wilson said. “I got a lot of people coming out, a lot of family there. It’s going to be one of those weekends that hopefully I’ll remember for the rest of my career. Hopefully we finish it the right way and the 25 people that I got coming to see me all get to see that. It will be really special to go back to Ohio and play in front of a lot of the same fans that I was playing in front of in college.”
As for the 25 tickets, Wilson said he was responsible for getting all of them, and he learned not to do that anymore.
“This is the last time that’s happening,” he said.