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June 3, 2019

TURNING HEADS

The familial ties stretch back a ways, to the days living in the Dallas suburb of Desoto.

“The Little League football organization that Raheem played for in DeSoto, Texas? My father started that,’’ Calgary Stampeders’ defensive back coach Josh Bell is explaining, with customary enthusiasm.

“My father was one of the founders. I think Raheem’s father was, as well.

“I found that out in the middle of training camp.

“Crazy, right?

“And he played on that same team with my little brothers, John and A.J. My brother called me after a couple days of camp and asks: ‘How’s Raheem going?’ I told him: ‘He’s balling. Lookin’ pretty good. He’s probably going to get some more reps.’

“Then he said: ‘He played quarterback with me and A.J. back in Desoto.’

“So when I found out, I called my dad. My dad, he couldn’t remember. So I told him: ‘James Wilson’s son.’

“He said: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember Raheem. He could do everything. He could play everywhere.’

“I said: ‘Well, he’s doing the same thing for me, daddy.’”

First-year DB candidate Raheem Wilson would doubtless be pleased to hear that.

“Funny,’’ he agrees, “how things come full circle.”

Not that Wilson needs any long-ago Desoto Little League ‘in’ to pump his tires at this camp.

“What’s most impressive about him so far?” repeats Bell. “His ability to retain – everything.

“I put him in four different positions on four different days. Loaded him. He showed he could handle it the first day so I kept on loading.

“We saw good things on him from IMG. On our defence, in our secondary, we prioritize your mind more than your physical ability.

“You can be the best athlete in the world but if you can’t process, you can’t adjust, you can’t be malleable?

“You’re dead to us.

“You can’t play for us.

“I don’t want you here.

“He’s showed us that he can load a lot of things at once. He might make a mistake but he never makes the same mistake.”

The 25-year-old Wilson, a four-year man at Southeastern Oklahoma State, spent the past two seasons in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany (pop: 40,000), helping the Unicorns to back-to-back German Bowl titles.

“Schwäbisch Hall is about two hours south of Frankfurt,’’ reports Wilson. “It was crazy fun for me because I’d never been outside the United States before.”

A favourite go-to chow-down at the corner gasthaus?

“Oh, come on,’’ Wilson laughs. “Schnitzel and pommes. Gotta be.

“I loved my time there. Everything about it. The chance to go to Europe, experience a new culture, see how people lived their lives, try the food. It was amazing.

“I never got to the big Oktoberfest, in Munich but in Schwäbisch Hall they had their own local Oktoberfest called Jakobi Market. A smaller version but I’d imagine is every bit as much fun.”

And his grip on the language?

“I tried at first.” A soft shake of the head. “I picked up enough to be able to order food. But, really, I can’t say much. Things like: ‘Ich bin mann.’ I am a man.

“But that’s obvious, right?”

What’s also obvious is that Wilson’s hungry for this opportunity. Over his two seasons in Germany the Unicorns went 56-0.

But this is, he admits, a totally different level.

“It’s been incredible. That pre-season game here … I haven’t had a chance to experience that kind of atmosphere for a while (Optima Park in Schwäbisch Hall, as a comparison to McMahon Stadium, seats 1,180).

“Being around a group of guys who are all here to compete and get better just helps you get better.

“You want to make every day count. You don’t want to be having any down days.

“Learning the defence as quickly possible, as many positions as possible and the game itself. It’s a different game. The spacing, the timing, it’s all new here.

“I’m just soaking everything in.”

So far, it’s been total saturation.

“He’s a worker,’’ lauds Bell. “Great physical ability. He can run, a 4.40 guy. A cerebral football player who has the mind to not have to rely on his feet all the time.

“He can process things and communicate, which is non-negotiable in our defence.

“I’m excited about him because he’s one of the guys I believe could be here a long time.

“He’s a guy I could see extending our culture.

“He’s one of my man-crushes right now.”