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Steelers LB Payton Wilson Unbothered By Lack of ACL, Says Injury Issues Are in His Past: ‘Not Gonna Have a Problem’

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Payton Wilson says he’s not bothered by not having an ACL, and that his injury issues are in the past.

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Pittsburgh Steelers LB Payton Wilson
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Payton Wilson during rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on May 10, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Payton Wilson has had so many surgeries from playing football that he doesn’t exactly remember how many it’s been — reportedly at least eight.

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 aback when he found at 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.”

The injury history, with significant surgeries at knee and shoulder, were one of the major reasons that Wilson slid to the Steelers at the end of the third round in the 2024 NFL Draft. He said most teams, including the Steelers, had questions about his injury history, but he’s not concerned.

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“I’ve talked to them here,” Wilson said. “They say because I’ve had a revision on my ACL that the graph, it just looks a little different. I definitely have a something in there. I would’t be able to run and cut the way that I do or move the way that I do, so a lot of it is just hearsay. But at the end of the day, I’ve been playing for five or six years just perfectly fine.”

Wilson was limited to two games in 2021 by a shoulder injury, and he suffered ACL tears in both his freshman season at NC State in 2018 and his senior year of high school in 2017. But he missed just one game over the last two seasons, and thinks his injury history is going to be just that.

“I’ve definitely had some injuries but I just come back stronger and better and faster every time,” he said. “My love for the game has grown so much because it’s been taken away from me. I’ll literally do anything in the world to be on that field, whether that’s maintenance, whether that’s fight through stuff. I love this game so much. I want to honor Jesus Christ by being the best person that I can possibly be and take these talents as far as I can.”

Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson

Payton Wilson, NC State Athletics

A former wrestler, Wilson said that it took him some time to get used to the level of training required to keep his body in shape to play football at the collegiate level. He also needed to figure out what the right weight for him to play linebacker was, compared to his high school wrestling weight.

“When I first got to college, my freshman year, I was just playing ball,” Wilson said at the 2024 Senior Bowl. “I truly didn’t understand the nutrition that goes into it, the maintenance programs that you have to do to stay healthy for 12 full games and at the next level, 17-plus. I think it’s just really important for me these last two years, I’ve gotten into pre-hab rehab. My nutrition is the most important thing for me. I like to weight anywhere from 236 to 239. I feel like that’s really the balance for me to fly around still and be heavy enough to be injury free.”

Wilson said he’s still doing that maintenance work “religiously,” but that he doesn’t have to do anything specific for his ACL, and while the news that he’s missing one made draft-day headlines, it’s in the rear-view mirror as far as he’s concerned.