The Giants were backed up near their own end zone. It was a cloudy, 66-degree day on Oct. 6, 2013, as running back David Wilson received the final handoff of the first quarter and sprinted to the right.

Defensive end Cedric Thornton and a host of Eagles collapsed the Giants offensive line. With nowhere to go, Wilson was forced to the end zone. Forward progress prevented the safety, but Wilson was driven back three yards by Thornton and safety Nate Allen.

"It wasn't like a real hard hit or anything," Wilson said. "I hit the ground and I went numb."

That was the last play of a two-year NFL career for Wilson, a 2012 first-round draft pick.

He had herniated a disc in his neck. About four months later, he underwent spinal fusion surgery. He returned for Giants training camp in 2014, but during a drill, he caught a pass and ran into the back of guard Eric Herman. That contact caused numbness in his lower extremities.

Doctors told him he needed to retire from football.

"He certainly expected for his career to be longer, but sometimes it doesn’t work,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin via email. “He is such an upbeat young man. He is so positive.”

Perhaps Wilson's optimism was in part because he had another sport to pursue.

He is now competing in track and field in the triple jump, an event where his neck injury does not pose a risk.

While at Virginia Tech in 2011, he was an All-American triple jumper, placing sixth in the NCAA championships with a jump of 53 feet, 1.75 inches. (British jumper Jonathan Edwards holds the world record of 60 feet set in 1995.)

Wilson celebrated his NFL touchdowns by doing a backflip in the end zone. Among all participants at the 2012 NFL Combine, he tied for second with a vertical jump of 41 inches, finished second in the broad jump at 11 feet and ran the 40 in 4.49 seconds.

Even in a league that featured the most elite of athletes, Wilson stood out.

"I can’t say I've seen one that’s more that athletic than him," said second-year Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas, who was Wilson's college teammate. "He’s super athletic, super freaky. His balance is something I’ve never seen before. He’s just a very different, very gifted athlete."

Does Wilson, the 24-year old gifted athlete, miss football, now that track is his sport?

"Oh yeah, most definitely,” Wilson said, acknowledging that football remains his best sport for now. "But I do love competing. With track and field, the beautiful thing about that is that, when you’re on the track, it’s just you."

His singular goal is to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.

"That’s the absolute, only reason I’m doing track right now," Wilson said. “Competing this year is not a big deal for me, and my distances this year are not a big deal for me. This is just more to get in the feel and in the vibe of the whole thing before the campaign starts."

With about a year to go, if Wilson goes from a starting NFL running back to an Olympic medalist in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, it would mark a transcendent athletic feat.

But the 2015 goal of his coach, Jeremy Fischer, the track and field program director at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, is to correct Wilson's technique and keep him healthy.

"If I can do that,” Fischer said, "with his competitive nature, I’m not going to put anything past him.”


During a high school track meet, Wilson first saw the triple jump event and its curious-looking series of jumps. Intrigued, Wilson approached his coach, Veronica Harris.

"I was kind of laughing, like, what in the world?" Wilson said. "That was weird."

Indeed the triple jump is an odd event. You sprint down the takeoff board and then hop and skip before jumping into a sand pit.

Unlike the long jump, which really comes down to the base skills of running fast and jumping far, the triple jump is a complicated, fundamental-specific event.

"It can be difficult," Fischer said. "You have to have the right mind-set for it. That's probably why David likes it because it’s not just brainless. It's not mindless. There's a lot of cognitive thought that goes into triple jumping."

A good analogy for the race is skipping stones across a pond. If one takes a rock and throws it as hard as possible, it will take a big bounce, stop and sink. But if one wants it to go far across the top of water, one has to deftly skip it across.

Instead of just exploding from the start, Wilson needs to learn how to keep his horizontal speed through all three phases of the jumps.

Wilson first played football when he was 8, but he didn’t run track until his freshman year at George Washington High in Danville, Va. He began triple jumping the following year and proved to be a quick study.

The next year -- his junior season -- he was the Nike national champion. As a senior he repeated as national champion and set a meet record with a jump of 51 feet, 5.75 inches.

"The whole time I'm doing this, I was never practicing for track," Wilson said. "I would sneak down for track and get what I could in … My coach always wanted me to be at football practice or football conditioning."

The same thing happened at Virginia Tech. He was on a football scholarship, and spring football and conditioning was the main focus after football’s regular season concluded.

With football now in the rear-view mirror, his total concentration is finally on the triple jump, an endeavor he started training for in full at Chula Vista during late winter of 2015.

The first step involved losing weight. He weighed 210 pounds while playing for the Giants, and most triple jumpers are only 150 to 160. He weighed 192 in mid-June and wants to drop to 180 pounds.

To lose the weight, he does a lot of running. His weightlifting regimen focuses less on upper body, and it involves lower weight, higher repetition exercises than his football days. He eats balanced meals and a lot of fish but doesn’t have a caloric limit.

“(Track athletes’) metabolisms are huge,” said Fischer, who has a nutrition degree from the University of Wisconsin. "It's not as much diet. It’s more how you train them."

Relatively new to the triple jump, Wilson is still honing his technique. The final jump is determined by how well you do the skip, which is determined by how well you do the hop. Teaching that progression is a challenge.

"He’s doing really, really well," Fischer said. “I’ve taken him probably slower than he would like."

Wilson was jumping 50-plus feet but suffered a hamstring injury in late spring, delaying his progress.

In his first professional track meet at the Adidas Grand Prix on June 13, he jumped 48 feet, 1.75 inches. (Cuba's Pedro Pablo Pichardo won the event with a jump of 57, 7.5.)

Wilson had hoped to jump 53 to 55 feet at the Grand Prix, but that may have been an unrealistic objective, considering he had only been doing an eight-step approach in training — not the full 12-step approach executed during events.

In Chula Vista he’s working out with 2012 U.S. silver medalist Will Claye, part of a stacked 2016 U.S. field -- which also includes 2012 gold medalist Christian Taylor -- that will present stiff competition from which Wilson must emerge during the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 2016.

"The triple jump is so good right now," Fischer said. "Everything has to kind of line up."

Making the Olympic team would mean something extra to the patriotic Wilson. His brother, Ronald, was in the Navy, and if David had not received athletic scholarship offers for college, he said he would’ve enlisted in the armed forces.

When he received a phone call from USA Football informing him that he had been selected to the 2009 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship, the high schooler excitedly ran downstairs to tell his father.

"You could see my passion back then, wanting to represent the United States,” Wilson said. "I'm putting that same passion now in this other direction."


After the neck injury forced the retirement of the 32nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Wilson smiled as he sat down with Coughlin.

"The way he expressed it was, 'God must have something in mind for me. I want no pity,'" Coughlin said. "'I want no one feeling sorry for me. I am not going to be down about this. No one will catch me in that frame of mind. I am going to stay positive.' … I thought that was a wonderful thing for him to say and a great lesson for all of us."

Wilson watched Giants games last season, and he regularly texts Coughlin, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr., among other figures. New York remains his team.

"I had a great time playing football there," he said. "They handled the situation with such class … I'll always be a Giants fan.”

Wilson's 21-game Giants career featured its ups and downs. He struggled with fumbles initially but still averaged 5.0 yards per carry during his rookie season.

He made his most significant mark on special teams, leading the league with 1,553 kick return yards (a Giants franchise record) and two kickoff returns for touchdowns during that rookie season in 2012.

“David was the kind of guy that we felt would add very much in terms of big play potential," Coughlin said. "He had speed and maneuverability to make the big play, and that’s what was very important to us."


A video posted by David Wilson (@4stillrunning) on

The best example of that ability occurred during a 52-27 win against the Saints on Dec. 9, 2012, when he totaled 327 all-purpose yards, including 100 rushing yards, a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 52-yard touchdown run and a six-yard touchdown run.

He totaled 115 rushes for 504 yards and five touchdowns during his two years in the NFL.

As Wilson jumps into his new sport, a link remains between his professional football and triple jump careers.

If he can make the 2016 Olympics, he likely will celebrate the achievement with a backflip, the same way he famously punctuated his touchdowns.

"I'll carry that over -- even in track meets,” Wilson said. "It's just my thing for the fans to enjoy."

-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.

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