Dadeville football and Avontae Wilson are a better match than bright lights and Friday nights.
Dadeville is an old-school, smash-mouth, physical team that runs an I-formation offense and attacking 4-4 defense.
Wilson is a beast of a linebacker who flies into opposing backfields and punishes ball carriers, while also knocking bigger bodies around as a blocking-oriented tight end who may as well be a third tackle the way he imposes his will.
“Vontae wants to be good, that’s the important thing,” Dadeville coach Roger McDonald said. “He wants to be good, he puts in the extra work, the extra mental work, studying film. It’s not just during the season, but during the offseason.”
Together, Wilson and his teammates have pushed the Tigers to a 5-1 record and near-definite playoff berth, and the junior has picked up legitimate college interest from big-time schools.
“This year has been good so far,” Wilson said. “We’ve been playing together and winning these games, really. I feel like I’ve performed well and helped the team out.”
Wilson recalls being a physical force since he started playing football at age 6.
It’s consistently been his favorite part of the game, the ability to hit somebody and make impact through contact.
“Always,” Wilson said. “It shows you who’s the strongest and who’s the boss on the field.”
If he’s a boss, Wilson’s made plenty of his opponents employees at the high school level.
When Wilson gets a running back or quarterback or receiver wrapped up, that player tends to get slammed into the ground. His supreme athleticism at the linebacker position means he’s doing it a lot, too, with McDonald and staff telling him there’s no reason he shouldn’t always be around the ball.
“We tell him, ‘We want you to make every play. Make every play from sideline to sideline. Become that player,’” McDonald said. “The thing you’ve gotta remember is, he’s just a junior. But make that play.”
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound monster might not be done growing either, McDonald said.
If he packs on a bit more size, he could end up as a terrifying edge rusher.
Then there’s the offensive side of things, where Wilson’s highlight reel is littered with pancake blocks from the tight end position. For an attack featuring plenty of off-tackle runs, his role is essential, McDonald said, even if he gets highlighted less than other tight ends who are utilized as receivers in the modern game.
“I love blocking,” Wilson said. “I mean, catching the ball, it’s exciting. But blocking shows how tough you are, that you can beat the man in front of you and open up a lane for somebody to score.”
It’s not just his on-field play that represents what McDonald wants to see from his players, however.
Wilson is a leader off the field too, the coach noted, outworking his peers in the offseason via the weight room and camps.
“He’s not just trying to do what he can to get by,” McDonald said. “He’s trying to make himself better. That’s a big part of it. In that part, he leads by example because the other kids see how hard he’s working. He’s one of our most gifted athletes and yet he also has great work ethic.
Colleges are beginning to take more than a cursory glance at Dadeville’s star.
McDonald displayed confidence that Wilson will be a D-1 player, the question is whether it will be at the SEC level or more of a mid-tier school.
“He’s gone to a lot of camps, and I know that he’s gotten interest from Clemson and Auburn, but there’s no official offer from them yet,” McDonald said. “Then you’ve got Jacksonville State and South Alabama and people like that. It’s a waiting game. Some of the mid-major types, if they think he is an SEC or Power Five recruit, they’re waiting to see, ‘Do we really have a shot at him?’ And I think when you’re not a four star or five star, you have to go through that period.”
Wilson’s experience blocking and playing in space occasionally at tight end provide versatility to help in his recruitment as well, McDonald said, as he could even be used as a spread offense’s wing back, or “hammer” as it is sometimes called in football circles.
Such a position seems aptly named for Wilson’s playstyle.
For now, Dadeville fans can rest easy knowing they have a pitbull like Wilson in their yard for this year and next.