Bettendorf has faster wide receivers on its football team than Ben Wilson. It has taller ones, too.
You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find one more dependable.
With the graduation of three-year starter Suni Lane last spring and junior track star Darien Porter battling an injury most of the fall, Wilson has developed into quarterback Carter Bell’s go-to target.
“He’s got a great work ethic and great hands,” Bell said. “He might not be the quickest guy out there, but I can trust him. He’s probably the receiver I can trust the most to get the job done.”
Just two years ago, Wilson was a fullback and linebacker on the Bettendorf sophomore team.
As his body started to mature and his quickness improved, Wilson made the switch to the perimeter.
The 5-foot-11 and 190-pounder was the team’s second receiver to Lane last year. He caught 24 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.
“There was a little bit of a learning curve, but I’ve always prided myself on taking on new challenges, running with it and seeing where it can go,” Wilson said.
And after an offseason of weight training, running track and developing chemistry with Bell on pass-catching routes, Wilson’s production has sky-rocketed. So too has his confidence.
Wilson has hauled in 37 passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns heading into Friday night’s Class 4A state quarterfinal against North Scott at TouVelle Stadium. He has the second most receiving yards of any player in the Quad-Cities metro this season behind Muscatine's Gavyn Ashley.
“He’s a classic story of work pays off,” Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley said. “He’s a guy that has worked unbelievably hard in the offseason, one of the best workers we’ve ever had at that position.
“He’s got great hands, runs great routes, and he’s a very smart kid. He understands football.”
Bettendorf’s culture is what helped instill that work ethic, Wilson said.
“I always try to be one of the hardest-working people on the field,” he stated. “Our program is based on that hard work in the offseason and coming in on Saturday mornings after game day.”
Wilson has caught multiple passes in every game this season except one.
Often labeled as a possession receiver, Wilson has proven to be much more. He had a 62-yard touchdown reception against Muscatine in late September and got past the Pleasant Valley secondary last week for a 73-yard score in the first quarter.
“It seems like this year, I’ve been more of a 10- to 12-yard, move the chains type of guy,” Wilson said, “but I think I really have the potential to do both.
“Track helped me a lot. I feel a lot faster than last year, and the track coaches did a really great job of teaching me technique and how to run and be more efficient when I run.”
Wiley raved about Bettendorf’s receiver depth at the outset of fall camp. He still feels very good about it, but Wilson clearly has separated himself as the primary threat.
His 37 receptions are 24 more than any other Bulldog receiver.
“With Darien a little banged up, Ben has had to step up and become the No. 1 guy,” Bell said. “He’s lived up to the expectations very nicely.”
Wilson showed flashes in the non-district portion of the schedule. He had seven catches in the season-opening contest against West Des Moines Valley.
The breakout performance came in the district opener at Muscatine — 7 catches for 160 yards and a career-high three scores.
“After the Muscatine game, I think it really turned up a notch,” Wilson said. “My confidence definitely went up a few notches, and we started to open up the playbook a little more and throw the ball more.”
One of Bettendorf’s team captains, Wilson has caught 14 passes for 239 yards in the past three weeks. He has aspirations of playing football beyond high school but doesn’t know where yet.
“He’s a quiet kid, one of those that lead by example,” Wiley said. “He’s a very, very key piece to our offense, and he can play a lot of positions. It has been neat to see him have this kind of success.”
It has translated into victories, too.
Bettendorf has won nine consecutive games and is looking for the program’s fourth trip to the UNI-Dome in the past five seasons this week.
“Losing in that first round last year when nobody expected to lose was a real heartbreaker,” Wilson said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get back there this year.”