LAKE FOREST – Until further notice, Marquess Wilson is living out of a hotel room.
It’s a perfectly fine hotel room, but it’s still a hotel room. You swipe a key card, step onto an ugly carpet, and flip a few switches that transform a dark room into a dim room.
Welcome to the glamorous lifestyle of an NFL rookie in mid-August.
“Right now,” Wilson said, “we’re just waiting.”
Wilson, 20, is determined to earn a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster as a wide receiver out of Washington State.
The Bears spent their final draft pick on Wilson (seventh round, No. 236 overall) as a low-risk gamble on a player with high-ceiling talent.
Although Wilson’s college career ended badly – he walked off the team after a dispute with head coach Mike Leach – his professional career is off to a good start.
He led the Bears with four catches for 82 yards in his preseason debut, and he has lingered after practice this week at Halas Hall to run routes and catch passes.
If all goes well, the rookie’s hard work will pay off Friday against the Oakland Raiders.
The Bears will travel west for their third game of the preseason, marking Wilson’s first return to his home state since he donned his No. 10 jersey to start training camp.
A few short years ago in the Central Valley, about 220 miles southeast of Oakland, Wilson was a three-sport star in his hometown of Tulare. It’s pronounced, um, TWO-lair.
“No,” Wilson said. “Two-LARRY.”
Asked to serve as a tour guide for Tulare, Wilson laughed.
“What would you do?” Wilson said. “Well, you wouldn’t stay in Tulare, first of all. You’d go somewhere else.”
You could go to Oakland.
That’s where Wilson is going this week with his new teammates. He has never been to the old Oakland Coliseum, but he has a pretty good idea of what to expect.
“It’s crazy,” Wilson said. “The fans are crazy. I know that for sure.”
Life is crazy, too.
One minute, you are a college student. The next minute, you are a professional.
Already, Wilson’s life has changed. The biggest changes are easy to identify.
“Responsibility,” Wilson said. “And knowing where you need to be at what time, and not forgetting and not relying on other people.
“It’s just growing up, basically, and maturing. That’s the big difference. Because you don’t have mom to drive you anywhere. Or, say, a college roommate or a teammate.”
The Bears have one of their most talented groups of wide receivers in recent memory. Brandon Marshall is the clear-cut No. 1 target, while Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Eric Weems and Devin Aromashodu all have proved to be capable NFL players.
As a second-year receiver, Jeffery can appreciate Wilson’s progress as a rookie.
“He’s a great receiver,” Jeffery said. “He’s got great hands. Coming in your first year, you’ve just got to learn a lot faster. Everything moves faster than college.”
That goes for off the field, as well.
Aromashodu entered the NFL in 2006 as a rookie with the Miami Dolphins. Like Wilson, Aromashodu was a seventh-round pick who was hoping to earn a roster spot.
In some ways, Aromashodu said, Wilson reminded him of a younger version of himself.
“He’s young, but he’s coming along,” Aromashodu said. “He definitely reminds me of those days from my rookie year.”
Every day is a whirlwind for a rookie.
The only way to understand the transition to becoming a professional athlete is to experience it.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Aromashodu said. “Because you have a weird feeling, but yet it’s a dream come true. So you’re trying to figure out how everything goes.
“You’re playing with people you probably saw on TV and things like that. It’s a surreal feeling: ‘Is this really happening?’ You’re just trying not to make a mistake.”
Wilson will make some mistakes, anyway.
For what it’s worth, he seems prepared to learn from them.
“You just go out there and perform,” Wilson said. “You’ve been doing it your whole life. It’s just going out there and having fun with your teammates and competing.”
And hopefully, one day soon, living in something bigger than a hotel room.