(June 16)—Ernest Wilford could be the subject of his own TV football documentary. He'd call it "Hard Work."
Wilford is the Jaguars' fourth-round pick from Virginia Tech. He's the team's other tall rookie wide receiver.
That's the way it is on a team that spent its first-round draft choice, the ninth overall pick, on a guy who is also 6-4 and who also weighs 220 pounds. Oh, yeah, the other guy's a little faster.
"All my life I've been put in that situation, in that role," Wilford said.
He was forced into a secondary role in college due to a lack of football experience. He played only one year of high school football before spending a year in prep school. He went to Virginia Tech as a defensive end and didn't make the move to wide receiver until his sophomore season.
Then came the hardest knock of all for a young man trying to find his niche. Late in his sophomore season, while he was still learning to catch a football, he dropped a two-point-conversion pass that would've defeated Miami and put Virginia Tech in the national title hunt. Hit him right in the hands; easy catch. It was the kind of blow that could've crushed his career, but it didn't.
Wilford put his faith in his family and the toughness they instilled in him. He leaned on his coaches and teammates at Virginia Tech, and he dedicated himself to becoming a better player. And he did.
"Ever since the Miami game, my game has developed," Wilford said.
His game is really developing now. In the final two weeks of the Jaguars' spring drills, Wilford's talents have exploded. On the second day of first-round pick Reggie Williams' return to Jacksonville, Wilford concluded his 13th spring practice with an impressive pass-catching display. He caught the out; the in. He caught the ball in stride and he looked smooth and natural doing it.
"So far, in no pads, he's really done some nice things and he's done them on a daily basis," Jaguars Director of College Scouting Gene Smith said. "The last two weeks, he's really played to his size. He's starting to grasp his position. He's more aggressive going for the ball."
Given his Virginia Tech credentials, Wilford's performance this spring shouldn't be a surprise. The guy was a big-time play-maker in a big-time program in college, but let's go back to his days growing up in Richmond, Va.
"My parents are real big believers in hard work. They're old-school and it's hard for them to come out of their ways," Wilford said, referring to chores and family responsibilities that occupied the majority of his after-school time.
His parents didn't permit him to play football. Then, one day, Wilford decided that what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them, and he joined the track team. One problem; the local newspaper ran his picture after he set a school record in the triple jump.
Mom and dad saw the picture and the truth was out. Mom and dad also decided their son must be a pretty good athlete and after much persuading they gave the green light for football in their son's senior season.
None of this was lost on Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. Beamer loves the kid and was quick to tell pro scouts Wilford is one of the best character guys the Hokies program has ever produced. Beamer praised Wilford's work ethic and Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was quick to do the same in Wilford's rookie mini-camp.
So, how hard can the kid work? Can he work hard enough to earn playing time on a team who drafted a wide receiver in the top 10? As a fourth-round pick who will occupy a fraction of the salary cap room Williams will, can Wilford put himself on equal footing?
"It's a great opportunity. I look forward to producing. If I continue to improve every day in practice, I'll be able to be on the field," Wilford said.
He already has one decided advantage over Williams: Wilford hasn't missed a practice to date, while Williams missed 12 due to the NFL's college graduation rule, and unless Williams comes to a contract agreement before training camp begins, the disparity could grow.
That's where Wilford could become a very important rookie for the Jaguars. He's the Jaguars' 6-4, 220-pound insurance policy. In fact, he's almost the same player the Jaguars drafted with the ninth pick; tall, jumps high, etc.
"He does not have great speed, but for a big guy he can separate. He can elevate for the ball and he has a large catching range, like Reggie, because he's tall and has long arms. And he'll have special teams value," Smith said.
That would also be to Wilford's advantage.
"It doesn't matter if you're a first-rounder or a fourth-rounder. I can go out there not feeling I'm their offensive future, so I can ease myself into that role," Wilford said.
"That's what motivated me; working hard. I had to work for my diploma, now I have to work for my money," he added.