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Posted: Tuesday August 12, 2008 1:11PM; Updated: Tuesday August 12, 2008 4:25PM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

Despite firing an AK-47, Florida's Wilson allowed back on the team

Story Highlights
  • OL Ronnie Wilson was arrested in 2007 for firing a gun in the air to scare man
  • Despite being found with marijuana in January, Wilson is back as a walk-on
  • Florida is no different than many programs with players in trouble with the law
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Ronnie Wilson/Florida
Florida coach Urban Meyer hopes that troubled lineman Ronnie Wilson makes the most of his second chance.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer used the phrase to sell his vision. Florida's players, Meyer said while speaking to the Gators Club in 2005 and 2006, would be "the top one percent of one percent," meaning they would be intelligent, athletically gifted young men with excellent character. When Meyer spoke the words, the old Gators cheered. The phrase even headlined page 1 of the 2006 Florida media guide.

Meyer hasn't uttered those words publicly in a while. That's probably appropriate, considering he has once again issued a practice jersey to Ronnie Wilson.

In April 2007 Wilson was a redshirt sophomore offensive guard from Pompano Beach, Fla., who seemed sure to win a starting job. Coaches loved his nasty streak. Then the nasty streak manifested itself off the field. Early on the morning of April 5, according to a Gainesville police report and Wilson's plea in court, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wilson punched and spat on an average-sized man named Frank Fuller at a nightclub steps from Florida Field. Fuller jumped in his car and followed Wilson, staying on the line with a 911 dispatcher so police would know where to find Wilson. About 20 minutes later, according to the report, Wilson's plea and a 911 call, both cars stopped in an empty parking lot. Wilson pulled an AK-47 from his trunk. As Fuller ducked beneath his steering wheel, Wilson pointed to the sky and fired.

Listen to excerpts of two 911 calls Fuller made, one which captures the gun shot Wilson fired (2:15 mark).

Now, 16 months later, Wilson is back on the practice field as a walk-on defensive lineman. Top one percent of one percent indeed.

Meyer's slogan made it sound as if his coaches recruit better human beings than their rivals. That isn't true. And those players certainly aren't held to a higher standard than Florida's opponents. Florida fans love to paint Florida State coach Bobby Bowden as a hapless warden whose "Criminoles" run amok in Tallahassee. Are Bowden -- who once joked that he was "praying for a misdemeanor" for former star receiver Peter Warrick -- and Meyer really that different? Bowden suspended receiver Preston Parker for two meaningless warm-up games despite an April incident in which police found Parker with a loaded .45 caliber pistol and marijuana in his car. What's the difference between Parker and Wilson? Parker didn't fire his weapon.

Florida is no different than FSU, Georgia, Penn State, Alabama, Iowa or any of the programs that have had their share of off-field transgressions. Some coaches give players second and third chances because it will help their teams win. Of course, Bama coach Nick Saban, as badly as he wants to win, likely never will allow linebacker Jimmy Johns back in his program. Johns was arrested in June and charged with dealing cocaine at least once in the parking lot of the Alabama football complex.

Like Johns, Wilson didn't make a simple mistake. He didn't only get caught with a bag of pot -- well, he did, but more on that later -- or get drunk and relieve himself on the sidewalk. He got so angry at another human being that he grabbed a gun and squeezed the trigger. The bullet had to land somewhere. Someone could have died. There are mistakes, and there are whoppers.

The punishment for whoppers should hurt more. To Wilson's credit, he performed his court-mandated community service and made progress toward a degree while suspended from UF. This progress convinced university officials to readmit Wilson. But Meyer didn't have to bring back Wilson just because he was a student again. Representing a university on its highest profile team is a privilege, not a right. Wilson forfeited that privilege when he squeezed the trigger.

If Wilson didn't forfeit his chance to play for the Gators then, he almost certainly did in January, when a Gainesville police dog sniffed something in Wilson's car. An officer removed six grams of marijuana, but Wilson got lucky. The state attorney's office didn't notice Wilson was on probation, so he wasn't immediately thrown in jail. Then, an assistant state attorney dropped the possession charge. A spokesman told The Miami Herald that "constructive possession" is difficult to prove, and the state attorney was under the impression that UF would handle the discipline.

In and of itself, marijuana possession is a minor crime worthy of little more than a glorified parking ticket. But Wilson was on probation. Meyer knew all about that incident, too, and he allowed Wilson back on the team.

Wilson could have played football again, and Meyer could have helped him move on with his career. He could have called another school and vouched for Wilson. Meyer didn't have to undermine any progress he'd made at instilling discipline in his program, which had nine players arrested or cited with -- at least -- misdemeanor charges between winning the national title on Jan. 8, 2007, and last October. By bringing back Wilson, Meyer has sent a dangerous message to his players: break the law and you'll get a slap on the wrist.

So why did Meyer risk his reputation on Wilson? "He's not back [in good standing]. I'm still evaluating," Meyer said. "I have a long history of giving guys opportunities who are [close] to graduation. A lot of thought went into it."

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