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Wilson will bring versatility to secondary

Illinois product 2d-round choice

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 28, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - One day after he had Patriots fans rejoicing the selection of two potential playmakers on defense, coach Bill Belichick had many scratching their heads with his selection of an unheralded defensive back in the second round.

Belichick then traded the Patriots’ second second-round pick, 62d overall, to Green Bay in exchange for third- and fifth-round picks.

On Friday morning, a league source said the Patriots would be looking for a defensive back and running back with its second-round spots, but would trade to acquire later-round picks if they felt it was a better move.

The Packers gave the Patriots the 90th and 163d picks in exchange for their spot at 62.

As for New England’s pick in Round 2, it is Illinois defensive back Tavon Wilson.

The Patriots took Arkansas defensive end/outside linebacker Jake Bequette in the third round at No. 90, wrapping up their Day 2 of the draft.

The selection of Wilson came out of left field for many. He was pegged as a sixth- to seventh-round pick by a couple of draft websites. One AFC director of college scouting said the 6-foot, 205-pound Washington, D.C., native is a “tough, physical, run-support safety. Liability in coverage.’’

He was not invited to the NFL scouting combine.

But whether he was worthy of a second-round pick, Wilson’s perseverance cannot be doubted - his father was murdered when he was just 1, and his mother drowned at a pool party when he was 12.

He was raised by his grandmother, Darlene Williams.

“It was rough, man. My hat goes off to my grandmother because she was a very strong woman to take me and my sister in and just raise us the best way she can to try to give us everything that she possibly could,’’ Wilson said. “And now I’m glad that I’ll be able to give her some of those same things that she gave me.’’

He said he does think his childhood experiences will help him deal with what’s to come in the NFL.

“Everybody has to overcome adversity,’’ he said. “I’ve overcome a lot of things in my life, and that’s why at the end of the day I am the person I am today - I never get too high or too low, I just keep working all the time and take everything one day at a time.’’

A team captain who started all 13 games for the Illini last fall, Wilson switched between safety and cornerback during his collegiate career. As a junior, the team had an injured safety, so he played there; as a senior, given the choice by his coaches, he chose cornerback because that is where his team needed a player.

But he also played nickelback and safety last season.

Wilson said he loves special teams, which is the fastest way for most young players to get playing time.

Though he wasn’t extended an invite to the Combine, Wilson watched every moment on television, taking notes of the times and measurements other defensive backs posted, and using them as he trained for Illinois’s pro day. When that day came (March 6), he felt he was in the best shape possible.

He worked out for the Patriots on campus, Wilson said, and talked to numerous teams in the pre-draft process, but he really didn’t have an idea of when he’d get selected.

“I was hearing a lot of different things as far as what round and all that stuff, so I just tried to focus, keep my head down and just keep on working,’’ he said. “I never knew where I was going to be taken, I just knew it was all over the place, it was out of my hands, so I just did everything I can to be drafted as high as possible.

“I feel like I worked hard enough to go as high as anybody decided. It was out of my hands. I just did my part; I prayed and I hoped for the best.’’

And now he’s headed to New England.

“It’s an exciting day,’’ Wilson said. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of, I got the phone call right before they made the pick, and it’s just exciting to be a Patriot.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Greg A. Bedard of the Globe contributed to this report.

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