Bo Wilson finds arm slot, home at Kentucky
His whole life, Bo Wilson wanted to be just like his father and be an Air Force fighter pilot.
Wilson followed in his father’s footsteps after high school in Brandenburg, Ky., going to the Air Force Academy to continue his education and pitch collegiately.
A mechanical engineering major, Wilson spent two seasons at the Air Force Academy, before his dream was crushed. He failed a depth perception test, required for pilots following his sophomore year.
After his junior season, he would have been committed to five years of active duty, for a total commitment of nine years, without the option to become a pilot, his lifelong goal.
With his dream shattered and his goal of following in the footsteps of his father no longer an option, the NCAA granted a waiver that allowed Wilson to transfer to his home-state school, play for the Wildcats immediately, and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“It was definitely a dream crushed,” Wilson remembered. “That is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. That is what my dad did. It was a little bit of a blow at first and it took a few days to let it sink in, think about my options. I definitely could have stayed there, continued studying engineering. There are multiple other jobs in the Air Force that I could have done, but I decided I wanted to come back a little closer to home and study here with my brother as well.”
After appearing in 48 games over two years with Air Force, Wilson had a strong fall practice season in 2014 and positioned himself to be a member of the UK bullpen as a junior.
Armed with a low, ¾ arm slot, Wilson was a weapon at the AFA in attacking right-handed hitters. After appearing in his first career SEC game vs. No. 20 Mississippi State, UK head coach Gary Henderson had an idea.
“He brought it up in the spring and we talked about moving to submarine arm slot,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t very interested at first. When we were at LSU, on Thursday night practice, he called me down to the bullpen and said let’s try this. I threw a few pitches and we started focusing on that in the bullpen for a few weeks. I got more and more comfortable with it.”
It took Wilson a little over a month to get comfortable with his new delivery, before becoming a major weapon for Henderson and the UK bullpen in late April and into May.
A 5-foot-11, 180-pound right-hander, Wilson appeared in seven games over the remainder of the year, not allowing a run and getting key outs vs. Florida, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Auburn.
Overall, Wilson – who earned consistent praise for his fearlessness and toughness on the bump – had a 0.82 ERA with a save in 11 games in 2015.
“I have always tried to be tough,” Wilson said. “My dad and I would talk about that. I’ve always been undersized, whether its baseball, basketball or football. So you have to be more hard-nosed than the guy across from you. Toughness doesn’t get enough credit in pitching. Out at Air Force, I got a good taste of that. I didn’t have the best stuff, but if you attack every pitch and every hitter then things usually go your way.”
Now as a season veteran of a pair of baseball programs, Wilson will helped anchor a UK bullpen in 2016 that features returnees Zach Logue, Dylan Dwyer, Zach Strecker and Logan Salow.
“We return so much experience in the bullpen, and obviously with our whole starting rotation back, that too,” Wilson said. “But with so many weapons in the bullpen, we can turn to any guy, on any day, even if a couple of guys are having an off day, our depth is almost endless. It takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the guys. Just go out and perform and do you job.”
After experiencing the Southeastern Conference for the first time as a junior, Wilson is more prepared for the grind of the nation’s best conference.
“I have a lot better understanding of what to expect,” Wilson said. “Coming from the Mountain West to the SEC was a big jump. I thought I had an understanding of it but you can’t really wrap your head around it until you are in the middle of it. Now that I know what it is like, that changes my whole approach quite a bit.”
Wilson’s time at the Air Force Academy helped him grow into a well-rounded, thoughtful and hard-working man who has the utmost respect of his teammates.
“Those years were very integral,” Wilson said. “I feel like I was there for a reason, grew as a man. It is a different mindset, being in the military and having a lot more responsibilities. It definitely gives you a different perspective. You get a better idea of the whole world and the part you can play in it.”
An interesting dynamic for Wilson arrived in 2016 as well, as his former recruiting coordinator at AFA, Toby Bicknell, replaced Brad Bohannon on the UK coaching staff over the preseason. In addition, another former AFA left-handed hitter Zach Reks has fought his way into the UK outfield rotation with a strong performance in the fall.
“If you would have told me that I would be playing at Kentucky four years ago I would have laughed in your face,” Wilson said. “Then much less to say that you, your classmate and teammate, Zach, and then Coach Bicknell are also going to be at Kentucky. I would have said you are crazy. It is a cool dynamic that was unforeseen but very fortunate for us.”
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2016 Season Tickets:
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