Willson transitions from QB to tight end

LOS ANGELES – When first-year Trojans head football coach Steve Sarkisian announced recently that junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick would be academically ineligible to participate in the upcoming 2013 season, all eyes turned to a shrinking roster of tight ends.

Besides impressive freshman Bryce Dixon, one of those intriguing candidates trying to help pick up the slack for Cope-Fitzpatrick has been Chris Willson, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound fifth-year senior walk-on, whose better known as a former quarterback/pitcher transfer from Wake Forest University.

So how does a former quarterback go from being a protected ACC signal-caller to a Pac-12 barroom brawling tight end?

“Growing up, good thing my dad, Jim, was a lineman,” said Willson, who played his prep ball locally at Santa Fe Springs (Calif.) St. Paul. “He played D-2 football at Denison University, so he was a defensive lineman and I have that blood running in my veins.

“Growing up, he taught me how to hit, so even though I played quarterback, I loved hitting and being in that aggressive position. Making the transition at this level is still tough. I enjoy it and getting in there.”

And what have been the challenges for Willson, who transferred to Troy in the fall of 2013 and saw limited tight end action last season?

“Just learning a position I’ve never played tight end before,” Willson said. “Getting a full year under my belt at tight end has been extremely helpful for me. Just technique wise and physically getting stronger on my blocking and things like that.”

The continuing transformation from signal caller to a tight end has also changed Willson’s weight room regimen.

“You do a little bit different lifting,” said Willson, whose major is religion. “The flexibility in the shoulder I don’t need as much any more, I don’t need to be throwing the ball every day, and I can work out in the weight room everyday.”

One of Willson’s mentors in the alteration has been senior starting tight end Randall Telfer.

“I’ve been working out with Randall (Telfer), he’s a really strong guy,” Willson said. “He has got me on his plan working out, and I am having more calories in my diet just to keep that weight on helps.”

Having had an impressive summer during the voluntary workout sessions, what does Wilson see as his strengths at this juncture?

“Blocking, I think so, and then route running, which is a big thing for me,” Willson said. “Getting the right technique and using my hips in blocking. This is the big thing that I worked on in the summer and route running, too, and getting more mobile, too. That takes some time to develop and keeping my feet under me and using my hands.”

And needless to say, Willson is fully aware that his head coach, Steve Sarkisian, runs a very tight end friendly offense.

“It’s a great offense for a tight end,” Willson smiled. “We’re moving so fast the defense has a hard time keying on us. There are a lot of options and I think it’s awesome for us.”

And for Steve Sarkisian, it certainly appears now that Willson is now one of those tight end options.