NC State LB Payton Wilson cherishes Bednarik, Butkus awards

NC State linebacker Payton Wilson had a decorated season in 2023.

Prior to the bowl game announcements, Wilson didn’t expect to rack up any postseason hardware despite his worthy statistics. When NC State called a meting, he expected it to be about where the Wolfpack would play their bowl game and honor the team’s captains, but Wilson said it was “an awesome surprise” to receive the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker.

“I’m just honored and humbled,” Wilson said. “All praise to the Lord. Growing up as a linebacker, always looking up to Dick Butkus, and just knowing about the Butkus Award my whole life, you know, it’s been a dream of mine and to accomplish it it means a lot to me.”

Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus passed away in October, and his legacy lives on in the form of the award in his namesake that honors the top linebacker in college football.

This year, that distinction went to Wilson, who was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year on the way to a team-leading 138 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Wilson also received the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented each year to the best defensive player in college football.

Wilson made the decision to return to NC State for a sixth season after five successful years, some impacted by injury. Wilson has suffered knee and shoulder injuries in his career, and that didn’t derail him from receiving recognition after a stellar sixth season.

“That’s just a credit to the Lord just staying with me through the trials and tribulations and just bringing me out on the brighter side,” Wilson said. “Coming back for this last year, just helping me make that decision, and eventually it turned out to work for the best.”

Wilson hails from Hillsborough, North Carolina, an in-state native who played for his home school.

He was named to six All-America teams after this season, and he’s earned First Team All-ACC honors in his career.

But the accolades may not be what means most to Wilson.

“I don’t know if anyone knows it, (but) my parents never miss a game,” Wilson said. “They’ve never missed anything in my life with sporting events. Me and my brothers played three sports growing up. They’re flying all the time in Milwaukee and to my games, so just to win that for my family, family from Hillsborough, North Carolina, that means a lot to me.”

And people seem to have a special place in Wilson’s life.

“I won this award, but coach (Dave) Doeren, coach (Tony) Gibson, all my teammates, they were here to support me this year and without them none of this would’ve happened,” Wilson said.

Wilson and NC State will face Kansas State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Dec. 28.

While the Wolfpack prepare to face the Wildcats, Wilson appears to have already found a place to keep his postseason awards.

“My dad is definitely going to want this trophy,” Wilson said. “This probably won’t go up in my apartment anywhere. He’ll probably put this one somewhere at the house.”