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Payton Wilson Reveals Advice Given by Mentor Bill Cowher

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Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson

In NC State’s win over Wake Forest last November, Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round selection Payton Wilson passed legend Bill Cowher (371) for seventh place all-time in NC State history. Wilson concluded his career with 402 tackles, fifth-most in school history.

Cowher’s 195 stops in 1978 still stand as a single-season record. He recorded two 24-tackle games (against South Carolina in 1977 and Clemson in 1978), tallies that still rank second in the record books.

Cowher, who was inducted into the Wolfpack Football’s Ring of Honor last September, is someone that Wilson admires. It makes sense, as like Wilson, Cowher was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, sideline-to-sideline linebacker.

“That’s one of my idols, an NC State legend, someone who lives life the right way, on and off the field. His name’s in the Ring of Honor at NC State, and he is one of the best coaches to ever coach in the game and one of the best linebackers to ever play. So just super excited to wear this jersey and continue his legacy,” Wilson said.

Wilson revealed in an one-on-one interview with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com that Cowher reached out to him shortly after being drafted by Pittsburgh.

“Yeah, he sent me a few texts. We text[ed] back and forth, just [him] congratulating me and I was just thanking him for all his wisdom and kind words and encouragement over the last few years,” Wilson said. “I got to know him pretty well over the last few years with the NC State connection, and now the Pittsburgh Steelers connection.”

Cowher is the only former NC State player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Philip Rivers and Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson could join him someday, though.

Before he became a Hall of Fame head coach with the Steelers, Cowher played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. He played mostly on special teams and was a fringe player. Unlike Cowher, however, Wilson is expected to make an impact in the NFL, but a lengthy injury history does raise some concerns. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said that Wilson does not have an ACL in one of his knees.

“Just continue to stay focused and continue to be the hard worker that I am,” Wilson said of Cowher’s best advice shared. “Every day just come in and be the same person. Don’t change no matter how well or how bad it goes. Just continue to work hard and keep your head down and try to be the best that you can be.”

Wilson is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound linebacker with a rare combination of size and speed, but also a lengthy injury history that led to teams passing on him in the draft.

Wilson was a five-year player at NC State, and he had his best statistical season in 2023, when he recorded 138 total tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, six passes defended, a forced fumble and one defensive touchdown. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defender in the country and the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker.

Wilson ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process, a 4.2-second short shuttle and a 6.85-second three-cone drill for a 9.89 RAS out of 10.

The medical part of the sport has been part and parcel of the process for Wilson from a young age, but even he was taken back when he found at the 2024 NFL Combine that he’s at least partially missing his ACL in one knee.

“I really don’t have a clue,” Wilson said when asked at rookie camp on Friday what it means that he doesn’t have an ACL. “When I went to the combine, that was the first time that I’d heard of it. I haven’t have problems with my knee since 2018. So, I mean, I’ve been blowing and going for a long time now with what they call a bum knee. In my head, I’ve been playing like this for so long, it doesn’t bother me. My knees don’t bother me. I’m not gonna have a problem with it.”

Alan Saunders provided reporting from Pittsburgh for this story.

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