May 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Terry Foster

Ex-MAC rivals Cody Wilson, Alex Carder find common ground in bid to make Lions

Cody Wilson, one of CMU’s all-time top receivers, hauls in a pass at Lions rookie camp last week. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Allen Park -- The ball floated into Cody Wilson's hands like it was dropped from heaven.

Wilson, a former Central Michigan receiver, tapped both feet inside the white line markers and listened to the roar of fellow Lion rookies as he tumbled out of bounds.

Wilson smiled. The play melted away a bitter rivalry between Western Michigan and Central Michigan because the ball was delivered by Alex Carder, who spent the last five seasons trying to beat Central.

Now this Bronco and Chippewa are no longer mortal enemies. They are fighting for the same goal. Both want to be members of the Lions, and they need each other to accomplish it.

"He (Wilson) is a heck of a player and a great person off the field," Carder said. "The fact he went to Central and I went to Western has nothing to do with our relationship right now. We are both in the Honolulu blue and silver. We are teammates and we embrace it."

Making friends

One is a kid from Kansas who found his way to Western. Wilson stayed close to home, going from Rochester Hills to Central. They completed Lions rookie camp and did not have much time to talk.

That's expected to change as they begin full-team OTAs (offseason team activities) this week while trying to impress Lions coaches.

Carder is trying to supplant Kellen Moore as the No. 3 quarterback behind Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill. As far as Wilson goes, the Lions are always looking for wide receivers. So you never know.

But now the veterans are in town and that makes things more difficult.

"Playing with him, he is definitely a great quarterback and a good leader," Wilson said of Carder. "It has been fun and we've kind of moved on from the rivalry. I want to get the ball and he is the guy getting me the ball, so I've got to make friends with him."

Carder turned in a terrific game against Central his junior season, passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns as Western beat Central, 44-14, in Kalamazoo. Last season, Wilson had eight catches for 105 yards as Central lost another bitter game at home to Western.

Wilson is second in Central history in receptions (230) and fifth in receiving yards (2,729). Carder is third in Western history in passing yards with 9,116.

People around here love to chirp about the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. Western-Central is just as intense and the postgame festivities are usually more fun.

"It's great to have a couple of Central players on the team," Carder said. "We can all put to bed the rivalry. The hatred was there while we were there. It's always going to be like that. It's such an emotional week for both sides."

This is the greatness of sports. All you have to do is switch shirts to switch allegiances. Carder looks like he has a chance to stick. He looked better at this point than Moore, who won the job as a rookie out of Boise State last summer. Carder missed the last half of Western's season because of a broken finger, but said the finger is healed.

Get better every day

Wilson looked comfortable also as he scampered about, grabbing some of Carder's bullets.

"For football to be my job is a dream come true," Carder said. "I am just trying to have fun and take advantage of every opportunity."

Coaches gave players good advice that they carry with them every day.

"Coaches say don't worry about making the team," Carder said. "They said think about getting better every single day and that is what I think about every day. I have improved and I am very pleased with that."

Their lockers were separated by two stalls and they spoke like they were good friends. Broncos and Chippewas usually don't get along on the football field. But those days are past for Wilson and Carder as they lean on one another to try to secure permanent jobs.

"When you think Central you have to think Western and when you think Western you think about Central," Carder said. "But you know it would be fun to throw a touchdown to a fellow MAC (Mid-American Conference) player."

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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