UGA's Isaiah Wilson goes from unsung redshirt to pro prospect

Two years ago, Isaiah Wilson had yet to play his first college football game.

Today, the former Georgia offensive lineman is on the brink of a pro career.

It's been that fast a transition for the former five-star recruit, one of only four third-year sophomores among 77 underclassmen who, as of Tuesday, intend to file for early eligibility for the 2020 NFL draft. Draft eligibility rules require underclassmen to be three years removed from high school, and the vast majority of those who declare play as college freshmen and enter the draft with three seasons of college game experience. Wilson (6-foot-7, 340 pounds) redshirted as a freshman in 2017, but after starting two seasons as the Bulldogs' right tackle, he's joined Arizona State P Michael Turk, Maryland RB Anthony McFarland Jr., and Penn State WR K.J. Hamler as the only redshirt sophomores to apply for draft eligibility thus far.

Entering 2019, he wasn't even giving the draft any thought, but by midseason, he began to sense he was excelling against NFL-bound competition.

"Our sixth or seventh game, I started getting into a groove. I figured out where I like to punch my hands, and pass sets became more natural and the game started slowing down for me," Wilson said. "Then I'm thinking, 'If this (defensive player) is a first-rounder or that guy is a first-rounder, I'm doing well too. Going against other talented people, highly touted guys, and holding my own or beating them in a matchup. Maybe (draft entry) is what I'm supposed to do.'"

His decision to enter the draft was a difficult one, and to skip the Bulldogs' Sugar Bowl matchup against Baylor was even tougher. Among his considerations was the chance to see his family for a rare extended stretch. A Brooklyn, New York native, he rarely went home in his three years at Georgia, and passing on the bowl game was not only practical from a business standpoint, but from a personal one as well.

"I'd only seen my family like three times on non-football occasions, three days each, in three whole years," Wilson said. "I wanted to get back to my family one last time before embarking on this (draft) journey because the same thing will happen, where (in training) I'll have limited access to them."

Wilson was a three-sport athlete at Brooklyn's Poly Prep Country Day, competing in lacrosse and wrestling along with football. After visiting other top programs including Michigan, Alabama and FSU, he settled on Georgia and upon his arrival he quickly realized, in a southern heat he wasn't accustomed to, that he needed a redshirt season to improve his conditioning and stamina.

From there, however, he was a lineup fixture, starting at right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and again last season. His development was one reason the UGA coaching staff was able to slide Andrew Thomas, who started at right tackle in 2017, over to left tackle.

Thomas is regarded as one of the draft's elite offensive line prospects, and Wilson said he learned plenty while redshirting in watching both Thomas and Isaiah Wynn, now with the New England Patriots.

Still, after being named a second-team All-SEC performer last year, there is room for improvement. NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein believes footwork and pad level are two areas where Wilson needs to get better.

"He's only played two years of football so he's still in a learning process from a fundamental standpoint," Zierlein said. "He's really big and long and that's what you want in terms of projectable physical traits. He's got the look of a Phil Loadholt-type. But he'll need to get the footwork fixed, and he'll need to learn to play lower, with better leverage."

Added Wilson: "I'm hard on myself. My level of satisfaction is hard to attain. I carry a mindset that keeps me hungry to keep getting better."

Wilson is preparing for the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine at the EXOS training facility in Phoenix, even further from his Brooklyn home now than he was in Athens, Georgia.

He's traveled a long distance to go from anonymous redshirt to pro prospect.

But on a calendar, the journey couldn't have been quicker.

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