Johnathan Wilson never could make it through a whole game.
Back in his home in Houston during winter break last year, Wilson sat on his couch and flipped through the channels on his TV.
Here was Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. And Missouri in the Texas Bowl. And even Iowa State in the Insight Bowl.
“It made me really sick to my stomach,” the Kansas senior receiver said. “I was happy for those guys to make it to bowl games, but I was sick to my stomach because I knew we had the talent and potential to make it there, and we didn’t. We didn’t.”
Wilson would watch the bowl games for a quarter or so before getting angry and turning them off.
“That seven-game losing streak (last year) really stuck in my mind this offseason. It’s still in my mind,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to forget it.”
Wilson believes it’s his time to take a step forward after a disappointing 2009 season.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound wideout started in 11 of 12 games last year, catching 35 passes for 449 yards with no touchdowns.
Each of those statistics was down from 2008, when he caught 43 passes for 573 yards and three TDs.
“I had a lot of expectations. It felt like I didn’t live up to it,” Wilson said. “I feel like I have a lot to prove this year, just with my teammates and with myself.”
Not only were his numbers down, Wilson also suffered from untimely drops.
He dropped a long pass that could have gone for a big gain against Duke and also couldn’t hold on to a pair of receptions in the final game of the year against Missouri.
“I had some drops that were crucial that I could have helped our team last year, and I let it slip through my fingers,” Wilson said. “This year, I really want to focus on bouncing back and making those plays.”
The Jayhawks appear to have many intriguing options at receiver in 2010. Bradley McDougald and Daymond Patterson are making the switch back to full-time receiver after playing some in the secondary last year. Also, red-shirt freshman Chris Omigie and converted quarterback Christian Matthews both contributed touchdown receptions in the spring game.
Still, the one with the most experience is Wilson, who hasn’t lowered his expectations.
In fact, Wilson says he has two individual goals: to lead the team in receptions and also to become a leader — and perhaps even a team captain.
“I ought to have a great season,” Wilson said. “Some people think I can’t do it. I’m looking forward to that. I like the underdog status, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
As for the leadership aspect, Wilson said he’s doing his best to pass on the knowledge given to him, a challenge he says is exciting.
Over time, Wilson said he has learned how to run better routes and also use leverage to his advantage.
Wilson also is striving to mimic the practice effort given by departed senior Kerry Meier.
“He’s a hard-working guy, so he never let us slack off,” Wilson said. “That’s one thing with these guys. I don’t want them slacking. Take every rep seriously. No reps taken off. That something that Meier’s taught me.”
Wilson said he has been fortunate during his time at KU to have been around great receivers. Meier, Marcus Henry and Dezmon Briscoe all were selected in the NFL Draft.
“They molded me into this person I am now,” Wilson said. “I’ve just got to take the tools I’ve been taught and use them.”
So far, new KU football coach Turner Gill has been impressed by Wilson’s ability.
“He’s a steady guy,” Gill said. “He can be very dependable, and he can go up and get a ball when we’ve got a jump-ball situation. He’s shown that.”
Wilson realizes now that he was a bit spoiled in his first two seasons when KU made it to the Orange Bowl and Insight Bowl.
He said those experiences were much better — and much less frustrating — than watching December football on his couch in Houston.
“When I was a freshman, because I was homesick, I always wanted to go home for the whole break. Never again,” Wilson said. “I never want to spend the whole break at home. I’d much rather go to a bowl game.”