The connection between the Patriots and the University of Alabama football program is nothing new. Since former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban was named Alabama head coach in 2007, the Patriots have drafted more players from Alabama than any other program.
Linebacker Mack Wilson is the latest tie between the two programs. Wilson was an All-SEC linebacker for the Tide before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round in the 2019 NFL Draft. Earlier this offseason, he was traded to the Patriots in exchange for defensive end Chase Winovich.
For Wilson, the trade hasn’t been much of an adjustment. As he told reporters on Tuesday in his first media session since becoming a Patriot, there’s been carryover between his new team and his college team.
“I went to Alabama and [it’s] really not much different,” Wilson explained when asked about making the adjustment. “Being here at the Patriots, this is professional. This is our job it is what we’re supposed to do. So it’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of fun as well. Don’t get it wrong it’s been fun as well. But, it’s just super structured, man. I feel like it’s just something that brings out the best in people, man. It’s going to bring out the best in this team this year. It’s been great overall. I’m just super excited.”
“With being traded here and being a part of this organization and just how everything’s ran here and how the guys work here and just how it’s so well structured and old fashioned, I feel like at this time in my career, that’s something that’ll really helped me and really take my game to the next level,” Wilson noted as well.
It’s not just the system that’s familiar for Wilson, but some of the names and faces in the locker room as well. A number of his former Crimson Tide teammates were in touch with him soon after the trade went down.
“After the news broke, ‘Mac(k) Number Two’ reached out to me, and that was that was kind of big obviously, to congratulate me and welcome to the team,” Wilson said. “The rest of the guys as well – Damien (Harris), Dont’a (Hightower), (Christian Barmore) – all the Bama guys were super excited, super pumped for me. The day I stepped foot in the locker room, I just got that too that it was just like a brotherhood just welcoming me in with open arms.”
‘Mac(k) Number Two’ refers to quarterback Mac Jones, who got the nickname from Wilson when the two were together in college because “when somebody says Mack, we’re both going to look.”
Wilson and Jones spent two years together in Tuscaloosa, with Wilson’s sophomore and junior years in 2017 and 2018 overlapping with Jones’ true and redshirt freshman seasons. Even though Jones mainly served as the scout team quarterback during that time (he didn’t play in any games in 2017 and threw just 13 passes in 2018), Wilson saw enough to know bigger things were ahead.
“I tell a lot of people I remember Mac when he was a pup. Just seeing how much he grew as a person and a player is just amazing,” Wilson said, when asked if he remembered facing Jones on the scout team. “I was telling everybody back home, friends and family like ‘Mac Jones is going to be special.’ And a lot of guys didn’t believe me. Even some of the guys that was on our team didn’t believe me. And I just saw something in him like – he’ll tell you himself – I just saw something in him that just made me like – ‘hey, this kid is going to be special.’ Even though I intercepted him a couple of times at practice, but I just always tell him ‘just stay working man and stay patient. Your time will come.’ And that’s what he did. And obviously the rest was history. He’s just looking forward to year two here. I just can’t wait to see his game develop and he’ll go to the next level.”
What did Wilson see in Jones that had him singing his praises? “He just had swagger. You know a lot of guys come in as freshmen all uptight and things like that. Mac was – he just had swagger, and that’s something that caught my eye. He made some big plays. He made some great throws. Even when he scrambled, he had a little juice in him. It was just different little small things that I see that made me like ‘hey, I like Mac. He’s going to be good.’ I believe in it. And obviously it’s coming true.”
With the acquisitions of Wilson and UDFA LaBryan Ray, the Patriots now have six Alabama players on their roster. That’s tied with Michigan for the most from a single school, although Alabama could re-take the solo lead if and when Dont’a Hightower re-signs.