When Joe Gibbs became head coach of the Redskins for the second time, memories of "The Hogs" immediately came to mind for many fans. The iconic group of blue-collar offensive linemen epitomized smash-mouth football and anchored Gibbs' three Super Bowl championship teams.
As Gibbs and assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel attempt to develop the second version of that famous group, the Redskins drafted California offensive tackle Mark Wilson in the fifth round (151st overall) of the NFL Draft on April 25.
Wilson understands blue-collar attitude--during high school he spent four summers in the California sun working as a garlic harvester to earn extra money.
"Knowing that I'm going to be a part of the Hogs fraternity is really exciting," Wilson said. "I know the Redskins are a team on the rise, and they're a team with a lot of tradition."
Gibbs said of Wilson: "He's big and super-smart. Talent-wise, he's the kind of guy that can fit with our line. He seems like our kind of guy--the kind of guys that made it for us."
Gibbs said that Wilson's size and durability appealed to the Redskins. The 6-6, 314-pounder started all 48 games during his four years at California.
"We have a number of offensive linemen that are coming back from injuries, and we wanted someone that was very durable--which this kid is," Gibbs said. "He's a very solid guy physically. Here's a really good young prospect to fit into our offensive line."
Wilson attributed his durability to playing hard on every play and a little bit of luck.
"I think it's just going out there and playing each down, whether it's practice or a game, as hard as you can," he said. "I was always told that when you slow down, that's when you get hurt."
Wilson was drafted by the Redskins after he met Bugel in the months leading up to the draft. Bugel attended California's bowl game against Virginia Tech on Dec. 26, a game that Wilson referred to as one of the best of his college career. The two had breakfast the following morning.
"We had a nice breakfast and really hit it off," Wilson said.
Bugel and Wilson spoke with each other again at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in mid-February, and it then became apparent to Wilson that the Redskins were interested in him as person and as a football player.
"At the combine, we sat down and had a good talk," Wilson said. "It wasn't like any of the other talks where teams were asking me football questions. We had more of a personal talk."
To increase his value at the combine, Wilson prepared for the showcase by training at Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona. He added weight to his frame there while he trained with some of the highly-touted tackles in the draft, such as Shawn Andrews of Arkansas (who was drafted 16th overall by Philadelphia)
"There were a lot of other quality offensive linemen there, and that really helped working as a motivator," Wilson said. "I knew that this was the level I had to be at."
With Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels serving as the Redskins' bookend tackles, Gibbs said that Wilson might see time at guard instead. Wilson has never played guard before, but he played tackle on both sides of the line during his college career. With that versatility, Wilson said he is open to the idea of playing guard.
Wilson has the size and intelligence necessary to make an impact in the NFL. But his most valuable intangible may be his blue-collar attitude--the same mindset that characterized The Hogs and fueled Wilson every day for four summers while he harvested garlic.
"I had to pick up the dirt clogs, diseased garlic and weeds as fast as I could," Wilson said. "I was there before the sun came up and was there until the sun went down every day in the summer so I could buy myself some new school clothes and put away a little money."
Although Wilson's size, intelligence and durability caught the eye of the Redskins on draft day, it may be his blue-collar approach that eventually cements his position on the Redskins' offensive line.
"I'm really excited to be working with Coach Bugel," Wilson said. "Now that Coach Gibbs is back with the Redskins, I think there are going to be exciting things happening."