Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Illinois' Martez Wilson itching to hit
By Adam Rittenberg
Randall Hunt didn't stand a chance.
Although Hunt has played a ton of football for Illinois and will enter the fall as the team's starting strongside offensive guard, he didn't have luck on his side at practice Tuesday morning. As offensive and defensive players revved up for the always-anticipated Oklahoma drill, Hunt had a virtually impossible draw for his 1-on-1 matchup.
"I was going to make sure I won any battle," Fighting Illini linebacker Martez Wilson said, "whoever I go against."
To put it mildly, Martez Wilson is excited about his return to the football field.
Hunt was Wilson's first victim, as he won his Oklahoma drill matchup and took another step toward his first full-contact football action in nearly a year. Wilson, as you might recall, suffered a herniated disk in his neck in the 2009 opener against Missouri and underwent season-ending surgery weeks later.
Illinois' starting middle linebacker practiced this spring but was held out of some contact drills. After getting full medical clearance before camp, Wilson's wait to hit someone ends Saturday when Illinois holds its first scrimmage at its off-site training area in Rantoul, Ill.
Who will Wilson be targeting?
"Anyone who's got the ball," he said.
"I'm excited," Wilson continued. "Just being able to hit someone and have a whole different mentality, it feels good."
Wilson has had an interesting run at Camp Rantoul. As a highly touted recruit billed as the next Simeon Rice, he wasn't too fond of the no-frills, all-football setting about 20 minutes away from campus.
Last summer, Wilson thrived in Rantoul, displaying greater maturity and a more positive attitude as he claimed a leadership role. But his season never really got started.
"It’s funny being back here again," he said, "but it’s all for the better."
For the second straight year Illinois will look to Wilson to be the centerpiece of the defense. Wilson expects to blitz more in new coordinator Vic Koenning's system, and he's practicing much more zone coverage than he did a year ago.
But most of his assignments are the same.
"Every day, I’m learning new things for the defense," said Wilson, who recorded 69 tackles and three sacks as a sophomore in 2008. "I’m having less MAs [missed assignments] than last year. And I just feel comfortable. The defense doesn’t allow you to think as much. The more I study the playbook and study film, the more it helps me on the field, so I like it a lot."
He'll like it even more Saturday, when he gets to tee off on a ball carrier again.
"It’s been a long year," he said. "The fans get to see what I can do again, get to [judge] me. The coaches as well, and my teammates, and most importantly, myself.