Friday April 29th, 2016 11:20PM

Wilson hurdles injury bug to help Wolves into championship showdown

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
BUFORD -- We'll never really know just how good Dontravious Wilson could have been.

The senior running back was poised to take over as the newest of a long line of high-caliber running backs to grace Tom Riden Stadium at Buford High School in 2012. Many of them have gone on to high-profile scholarships like Darius Walker (Notre Dame), Demetris Murray (South Florida), and Dominique Swope (Georgia Southern).

But sports can be cruel.

Less than two quarters into his final season for the Wolves, Wilson was knocked out of the season-opener against Elbert County with a knee injury. So much for that.

"I was like, 'wow' but I felt I could make it back. I didn't give up hope," Wilson said.

Sports can also bring out a person's true character.

Wilson rehabbed his knee and for his troubles he would miss the next several games. But Wilson was there with his teammates for every practice as they battled through the season. It made coach Jess Simpson take notice.

"He's a special kid," Simpson said. "He's humble and works hard and will do whatever is asked of him. The other kids see that and look up to him. He's one of leaders on and off the field."

The hard work would pay off as he returned against East Hall in a key Region 7-AAA game. He was ready to help his team and finally show what he could do.

But again, sports can be cruel.

He would injure his other knee against the Vikings in the next-to-last-game of the regular season and not return. This time, it definitely looked like the end of his high school career was at a close.

"I wasn't real confident I would make it back after the second one," Wilson said. "But I just kept working and trying to get back."

Three weeks later, in the second round of the playoffs against North Oconee, he would get a second chance. Despite playing just 10 plays, his impact was crucial in a tight 13-0 win.

"He made some big plays that helped us win a tough game," Simpson said. "We got a good glimpse of what he can do."

And Wilson has literally taken the ball and run with it ever since. Despite playing in just under half of the Wolves games in 2012, Wilson still leads the team in carries (146), yards (1,137) and touchdowns (14).

Wilson will lead the Wolves into an unprecedented sixth straight state title game Friday night when they take on St. Pius for the Class AAA championship.

"I'm not surprised but I've been impressed at the same time," Simpson said. "He's got the rare combination of speed, power, and has great vision on the field. He's had a tremendous year when you think of the setbacks he's had."

Simpson, however, was not hesitant when asked if Wilson -- had he stayed healthy the entire year -- would have challenged the numbers of Walker, considered the best running back in Buford history. Walker finished with 2,406 yards and 46 TDs his senior year after running for 1,986 yards as a junior.

"I definitely think Dontravious would have put up some huge numbers. Could he have gotten to Darius's numbers? I don't know. But it would have been interesting to find out," Simpson said.

Wilson, however, was quick to downplay whether he could have achieved those lofty heights.

"I don't know. I just try to do what the coaches ask me. I love to run the ball and I want the ball every play if it's possible," he said. "But I remember watching Darius and I don't know. He was amazing. I don't know if I'm at that level."

But the numbers say otherwise. Walker averaged 160.4 yards a game in 15 games as a senior in 2003. In 2012, Wilson has averaged 162.4 yards a game in seven games.

Still, all Wilson is focused on as he prepares for his final game at Buford is finishing strong.

"Winning the title would be great," Wilson said. "But really, we're playing for a lot more than that. We're playing for each other.

"Not many people thought that this team could get to where we are. We knew we had the talent here but no one really gave us a chance. The coaches got everybody to come together and the chemistry on this team is so much better than last year. Not taking anything away from that group, but the seniors this year are all in it together.

"This would mean so much to all of us. I'm just ready to go out there and play. We feel like we have a great shot and hopefully we can bring home the trophy. I had a dream I was carrying the trophy around after the game and I want to help make it come true."

-- WHAT: Class AAA football championship
-- WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- BUFORD (11-3, No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Cartersville 21-10 in the semifinals
-- ST. PIUS (12-2, No. 1 seed Region 6-AAA): Defeated North Hall 31-6 in the semifinals
-- HISTORY: The two teams have not played since 1985, splitting contests in back-to-back seasons. They are the only prior meetings between the programs.
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