NEW CANAAN — In a moment, Wyatt Wilson saw his entire senior season flashed before his eyes as he rolled in agony on the turf at Dunning Stadium this past July.
Things had been going swimmingly for Wilson in the offseason.
He was building a rapport with quarterback Drew Pyne, was feeling physically stronger and faster, building confidence and ready to shine in his final year wearing the red and black.
Wilson and the coaches felt he left something on the table in a junior season with just 13 catches for 126 yards. The 6-foot-3 wide receiver set out the day his junior season ended, to make an impact on the team his senior year.
He hit the weight room, worked with Pyne and the other receivers and religiously and studied hours of film.
The results were showing and Wilson was getting jacked up to make his mark with the team.
“He has worked very hard to get to where he is. Last year was disappointing for him. He was determined to come back and really do this,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “At first he lacked a little confidence but he started working out and going to 7 on 7s and catching the ball a little more and he was really coming along.”
New Canaan hosts the Grip it and Rip it 7-on-7 passing tournament each July and this year, the Rams found themselves in the championship game for the first time in recent memory.
Pyne was hooking up with all his receivers, but he and Wilson were particularly locked in that day.
“Drew and I really worked all offseason on our connection. Last season we were overthrowing each other and not timing up perfectly,” Wilson said. “We were doing great in that tournament and that was all that work paying off.”
Late in the game, with New Canaan on its way to victory, Pyne threw up a jump ball for his lanky wideout but the defender knocked it away.
Wilson came down awkwardly on his arm and within an instant of hitting the turf, he knew something was wrong.
His pain and anger were apparent as he pounded the turf.
Wilson had broken his collarbone.
“It really sucked, right then. Immediately when I fell I knew it broke because I felt something shift,” Wilson said. “I was like ‘oh, man this is bad.’ I had so much stuff planned for the rest of the summer like going to college camps and working with the team. It was rough.”
In that moment, he felt everything he had been building toward crumbling before his eyes.
He was devastated and so were his teammates.
“We were having a great day that day and throwing the ball up to our guy who can really go get it,” Pyne said. “I threw the ball up for him and he came down on his shoulder and I didn’t know how severe it was. After I heard the news on how severe it was it hit me the heart.”
The trip to the doctor eased some of Wilson’s concerns as he was told he would be able get back on the field for at least half of the season.
Still, he was on the sidelines as the team went through preseason work and it was eating him up inside.
“I remember being at those long, hot practices early in the season and guys were saying ‘this is so hard’ but all I could think was ‘I wish I was out there,’ ” Wilson said. “Despite how hot it was and how hard those practices are, I’d do anything to be out there. That made me appreciate coming back and being able to play now, so much more.”
His teammates could see Wilson was struggling not being on the field.
“He took it hard,” Rams senior receiver Quintin O’Connell said “I think he felt bad that we were all working in the summer and then he had to stop and go do therapy to get better. We were on an upswing doing Grip it and Rip it and suddenly, his season took a huge turn. His effort to return has been unbelievable. It hit him hard missing our first game, but he has returned as well as anyone in the state that has come back from injury this year.”
Wilson wanted to be back sooner and by ramping up his rehabilitation, he got back on the field for the Rams’ second game of the season against Danbury.
In that game, Pyne welcomed him back by tossing him a touchdown pass, but Wilson could tell he was not quite up to full-game speed.
“I think I rushed back a little. I probably should have been out one more game, but senior year, I wanted to get back out there,” Wilson said. “My first game was good, I caught a touchdown on my first catch and that was amazing. I was so excited.”
While O’Connell has been smashing school records on the other side, Wilson has quietly gone about his business by having a stellar senior season. Pyne said Wilson is a great red-zone target with his ability to out-jump most defensive backs. Wilson has 35 receptions for 583 yards and six touchdowns, but has made his biggest impact in the Rams most important games down the stretch.
That began with Wilson catching four passes against Darien in the Turkey Bowl, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
“That was awesome,” Wilson said. “That is something I have dreamed about since I was in third grade. Catching a touchdown is always special, but to do it in the Turkey Bowl to win the game, is an amazing thing. I was really excited about that.”
He would keep rolling in the state playoffs where he caught 5 passes for 22 yards against Shelton and 4 passes for 66 yards and a long touchdown against Fairfield Prep in the semifinals.
“He and Drew have worked but it has been a process and it took a few games for him to get back but now he is as good as he has been all year,” Marinelli said. “That catch against Darien had to be a highlight of his senior year.”
His teammates were just as thrilled.
“It makes me happy when Wyatt scores because his success and coming back has been so great,” O’Connell said. “When he scored against Darien nobody was happier than Drew and me. We have been close with him and known all the work he’s put in. Seeing him fall and get hurt in the summer with the injury but then rebound like this, is incredible.”
Wilson hopes his senior season, which began in pain and despair, will end with he and his teammates hoisting the CIAC Class LL championship plaque when the Rams take on the No. 1 team in the state, Greenwich, Saturday at 10 a.m.