From the diamond to the gridiron

Few people call a career-ending injury a blessing, but Chris Willson does. Willson, a redshirt sophomore, was forced to end his baseball career after tearing his labrum, the band of cartilage that helps keep his shoulder in place. But his days in a Wake Forest jersey are not over as he will be joining the university football team this spring.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

A natural athlete, Willson stands 6-foot-6 and weighs in at 225 pounds. He lettered in football in high school and was captain of his team in 2009, in addition to being a standout pitcher on the baseball team. When the time came to make a choice between football and baseball, the California native chose to play baseball because he had more recruitment opportunities. Now, he says that it turns out God had a different plan for him.

After having shoulder surgery this past summer, he realized that he would never be able to reacquire the whip necessary to make the pitching motion.

“[The surgery] kind of put a hinder on the rest of my baseball career here at Wake,” Willson said. “It would be a long process getting back into it.” But throwing a football is an entirely different motion that is much less stressful on the shoulder. Therefore, Willson will be making the transition from pitcher to quarterback.

Despite choosing to pursue a career in baseball, Willson still always had football on his mind. “I leaned more toward baseball and that’s how I felt when I came here,” Willson said. “But I always had in mind the opportunity to play both because, I mean, that was the dream growing up.” So while he was recovering from surgery, he decided to revisit a career in football. “I just wanted to give it a shot and I talked to the coaches,” Willson said. “I’m a big guy so they accepted it.”

Now Willson will try and integrate himself into the football team, prove himself to the coaches and find his spot in the quarterback rotation. After working on throwing and his technique for the past few months, Willson is now participating in spring football and is looking forward to the fall season. “It’s going to be a completely different experience traveling to different schools and playing a football game rather than baseball for Wake,” Willson said.

And while he is excited for the opportunity to play another sport he loves, for the school he loves, Willson will miss being part of the baseball team. “I’ll miss just hanging out on the field and joking around with the guys,” Willson said. “It’s a whole different atmosphere between baseball and football. Football is a little more fast paced and it keeps you a little more active. There are little quirky things here and there that I’ll miss from baseball.”

And although Willson will never set foot on the baseball diamond again, he joins a rare class of athletes to play two sports in a top athletic conference. “It’s kind of cool to get the opportunity to still play and help out the school in any way I can,” Willson said.

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