George Wilson still has plenty of love for his hometown of Paducah and his alma mater, Paducah Tilghman High School.
The second-year Tennessee Titans safety and 10-year NFL veteran was in town last week to make preparations for some upcoming events he's holding for the youth in Paducah.
Wilson is a 2000 Tilghman graduate and majored in business management at the University of Arkansas. Joining the team as a walk-on, he finished his career with the Razorbacks in 2004 with 144 career receptions for 2,151 yards and 16 touchdowns in 44 games. He spoke over the phone with the Paducah Sun on May 2 and talked about his on-going relationship with the town and his high school.
This is the first in a two-part series. In Monday's edition, Wilson talks about the Tennessee Titans and the NFL.
Q: You just happened to be in town on Friday (May 2) and made your way over to Paducah Tilghman to talk to the football players. Talk about what happened and how much fun you had.
GW: Oh man, we had a great time. I actually had the opportunity to meet (new Paducah Tilghman head football) coach (Mike) Rodgers, and he lives up to what I've heard about him. I've heard he's a great guy and a great football coach, and I just like the system he's putting in place. He's trying to change the culture around the Tilghman football program and the few minutes I was able to spend time with the team, I know he's getting them ready to start a new regime. (Former) coach (Randy) Wyatt won a championship and he certainly kept Tilghman on the football radar, and I don't think it will be any different with coach Rodgers and his staff. They want to keep the winning tradition Paducah Tilghman has always had.
Q: What's it like to know you're still welcome at the school at any time to talk to the athletes, and that administrators and coaches at Paducah Tilghman have the respect and admiration for you to be able to do that.
GW: It's awesome to have that open door policy. And it's not only at Tilghman, but throughout the Paducah School System. I just appreciate that they appreciate all that I'm able to do and that they allow me to use my platform to help my community and the next generation of kids. It allows me to encourage them to follow their dreams as I was able to follow mine. So it's just great to feel welcome whenever I come home and the willingness of the administration and teachers to allow me to talk to the kids and give them insight about life in general and being around the right people is priceless. It's something I look forward to, and any time I'm asked to speak, I don't hesitate to take up that opportunity.
Q: It also shows how your going to Paducah Tilghman was such an impactful part of your life that it makes you want to come back. It shows your love for the school.
GW: There's something there. Being a Tilghman student and being a member of the football team was something I aspired to do my entire life. I wanted to follow in my big brother's footsteps. When I would leave my little league practices, I would go over to Tilghman and watch the high school team practice. I remember one day that coach Allen Cox called me over and asked me if I wanted to run a play with the team. I told him, absolutely.
So he put my brother in the backfield with me as the fullback, and Billy Jack Haskins was the quarterback at the time, and we ran a sweep. My brother laid a block for me and I shifted out to the side, and they took it easy on me and let me score a touchdown. But that just gave me the confidence of a lifetime. There I was at a very young age and offered the chance to run one play with the varsity team. It just gave me a huge outlook on what I could do moving forward if I just continued to work hard and then wait for my opportunity to put on the Blue and White.
Q: The George Wilson Foundation is very close to your heart, so tell me what are some of the things that are coming up that the foundation is doing?
GW: I'm actually preparing to get ready for my Leadership Retreat. It will be with about 50 students, mostly from the Paducah Middle School, and for the first time I'm including 10 students from the Nashville area.
I'm just slowly trying to slowly integrate Paducah kids with outside kids so they can see that no matter where you are from that they are experiencing the same challenges as others and then maybe they can draw some strength from recognizing that they aren't the only ones going through it. We're going to have that next Friday over at Camp Widjiwagan, a YMCA camp down in Nashville. I'm looking forward to it. It's my favorite event I do, just because I get to get the kids out of the everyday environment and get them on the campgrounds and give them the opportunity to interact without feeling handicapped by their everyday environment. Some times when you get kids out of their element, you get them to open up and see a different side of them. So that's one of the goals of that event, and it's something I look forward to and am excited about.
Q: You also do a Christmas toy drive and a Thanksgiving dinner for folks, too?
GW: We do. We give out what we call "Boxes of Loves," which is food and other perishable items, so less-fortunate families will have the opportunity to have a family meal together without the burden of not having the money to go out buy a nice meal for the family to have.
We do that every Thanksgiving, and every Christmas we do a big toy drive and that's a time for underprivileged families to be able to come in and get toys for the kids to make the holiday season a lot more pleasant and enjoyable. Both of those are a lot of fun and generate a lot of excitement and the community has responded with donations and volunteering.
And then in June, which was the reason I was over at Tilghman, we have our football camp and cheerleading clinic. We were just working on some of the logistics and meeting with the coaching staff so they know what I desire for the camp kids along with seeing the resources and things we need to have to have a more personable time with the kids. We want every kid to have the opportunity to get individualized attention and the opportunity to have a personal interaction with some of my teammates and friends that I bring to help work the camp.
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.