Evan Wilson Adjusting Quickly To College Ball

The Fighting Illini football team has recruited few tight ends in recent years. And Zach Becker, expected to start at the position this season, was withheld early due to a stress fracture. But out of the blue, unheralded freshman Evan Wilson rose through the ranks in fall drills and is now starting at that important position. He has great potential.

Evan Wilson was not highly recruited. Even Illinois wasn't involved early on. When did the Illini make contact?

"Towards the end of the recruiting process. Early December, Coach (Greg) Nord, he recruited me when he was at Louisville, when he made the switch he picked my name up. I got a visit here and really liked it. I was originally committed to Middle Tennessee, but when I saw this was a great opportunity, I took it."

The 6'-6", 237 pounder caught few passes in high school, so he didn't get noticed much by major colleges.

"It was probably the system I was in. I was just blocking. But I think everything has its purpose, and I'm here for a reason. You'll see I'm a pretty good football player."

That he is. Which must have made it doubly frustrating for him in high school, waiting for someone to notice him.

"It's definitely a challenge. It's definitely exciting to see it pick up towards the end. You try to keep a cool head about everything and view all your options before you make any rash decisions."

Illinois is glad he waited. And Illini coaches are happy to discover Wilson's great hands and maturity despite his youth. He has a confidence that belies his high school production.

"It's just like here. If you can run the ball and win football games, you do it. We ran the ball and won football games in high school. I'm okay with that. When they throw it to me, I'm gonna catch it. Believe that."

He made believers of the Illini from the first day of fall camp.

"Really, just coming in the summer, I just wanted to work as hard as I could and make the plays when they came to me. That's what I've been doing all through high school. I just had to bring it over here."

People saw a tall slender fellow who might have trouble blocking big, agile defensive linemen and predicted a cinch redshirt season. They didn't realize how tenacious and determined Wilson was.

"I'm definitely not afraid to go in there and block. There are some big boys out there, I ain't gonna lie to you about that. I'm not the biggest guy right now, but I'm gonna get bigger, and I'm gonna keep on blocking."

The Woodstock, Georgia, product provided an excellent seal block that helped free Mikel Leshoure on his game-winning touchdown against Northern Illinois, and he has blocked well consistently. But he agrees his biggest need is to get stronger.

"Just getting into the weight room a little more. Physically getting more prepared for the college game. I think athletically I'm there. I picked up 10-15 pounds before getting up here. I dropped a little bit in camp and going into the season. Hopefully by next spring I want to be up to about 250 to 255."

Wilson's first collegiate catch was a big one against SIU. He caught a long pass from Nathan Scheelhaase and rambled down the sideline before being stopped at the two. Illinois coach Ron Zook said Wilson was upset he didn't score on the play.

"Evan took it pretty hard in the locker room. The guys got after him pretty good about not scoring but he told me, `Coach, I'm just trying to make my first college catch.' He's a guy that's going to get better and better."

Wilson agreed the ribbing was intense.

"It was terrible. I'll never hear the end of it. They said I have no moves, no vertical. So they're still getting on me pretty good."

Still, he will always remember the moment.

"It was exciting. It definitely was nerve-wracking, but when the play comes you've got to make it. Instincts just took over and I made it. It was just a great play call by Coach Petrino. We repped it in practice a lot, so we had it down pat when we ran it."

Wilson has supportive parents. Their involvement helps reduce any homesickness.

"Mom's gonna be here for every game. Believe that. You're gonna see momma here every game. Dad will make it up to every other game because he works a lot."

If early indications hold true, mom and dad will have many pleasant memories to share with grandchildren down the road.

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