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Wilson signs on with Liberty to fulfill a dream

He plans to use his college football scholarship to become a sports physician or lawyer.

One day, Crystal River lineman Jimmy Wilson is going to be a sports medicine physician or a corporate lawyer with a degree from Liberty University.

Football is going to make it all possible.

The dream Wilson has harbored since the day he became a freshman starter on the Crystal River offensive line four years ago became a reality Wednesday afternoon when he signed a national letter of intent to play football at Liberty, a Division I-AA school in the rolling hills of Lynchburg, Va.

Wilson, 17, is the first Crystal River player to sign a scholarship on national signing day since Bryant Brooks signed to attend Kansas State in 1989. Wilson was a 1999 Times All-Suncoast first-team offensive lineman and a two-time All-North Suncoast offensive lineman. He also played on the defensive line at Crystal River.

"I'm excited," Wilson said as he sat in Crystal River coach Earl Bramlett's office preparing to sign his scholarship papers. "I never really thought I could get to a school this size. I'm pretty amazed at myself; pretty proud."

Wilson took an official visit to Liberty last weekend. It was 7 degrees when he arrived, and it also snowed while he was there.

But while the weather was brutally cold, Wilson said he found the atmosphere to be warm and cordial.

"It was pretty fun," he said. "They showed me around campus, and in the evenings I hung out with some football players. They treated us good, I liked the campus and they went into detail about everything."

Wilson and his mom, Linda Rogers, made the trip together. Rogers said she was impressed by the coaching staff and how it went out of its way to be nice to players' family members. She also liked that academics were stressed throughout the recruiting visit.

"They made a point of telling you that after class, if a child needs special help he can get it," she said. "They want you to know it's very personal there."

Rogers jokingly added that what impressed her 6-foot-2, 252-pound son the most was the size of Liberty's cafeteria, which seats 3,000 people.

"He asked the coach how many times a day could he go in there and eat _ could he only go in there three times a day or could he go in there anytime he wanted to eat," Rogers said "It's not a normal cafeteria. You have this little substation here, hamburgers and hotdogs over here, salads over there, pizza and tacos over here. And it's huge."

Liberty head coach Sam Rutigliano retired in January and the position has not been filled, but Wilson said he wasn't deterred by that unknown factor.

"The A.D. assured everybody that everything would still be the same," Wilson said. "They said they will start me off and try me at defense. The coaching staff looked like they knew what they were doing and they are good people."

Members of the coaching staff hold Wilson in high regard too.

"He's a player," defensive coordinator Pete Sundheim said from Lynchburg on Wednesday afternoon. "What I like about him most is that when the cards are down, he really turned it up. He's a big tough kid and we're really excited to have him."

Sundheim said Wilson first came to the attention of the Liberty coaching staff when offensive line coach H.T. Kinney noticed him during a game.

"What we like the most about Jimmy is the intensity and toughness that he brings," Sundheim said. "He's a real, tough, hard-nosed football player."

Bramlett, who was Wilson's high school coach for four seasons, said he thinks Wilson will fit in well at Liberty and that the school is lucky to get him.

"We've always found him to be an outstanding young man," Bramlett said. "He's been a great addition to our program here. I'm just glad things worked out for him. I think he's going to a tremendous school. They still do things kind of the old way there. They still have boys and girls dorms, they have supervision. I think the environment will be a great help to him."

Rogers said she has no qualms about letting her son go 14 hours (719 miles) away from home.

"No, it won't be (hard), not really, because I know he's going to come home," Rogers said. "I know he's going to come home."

Added Wilson: "Every chance I get."