Martez Wilson was happy to hear his name called for the NFL draft Friday evening, the 72nd player chosen.
"I feel very happy to go to the Saints. I think I can do well there. Their coaches are good people. I'll be playing with the national champs. It's a great honor. I can't wait."
Three Fighting Illini football players entered the NFL draft with eligibility remaining: Corey Liuget, Mikel Leshoure and Wilson. All three were taken early in the draft, and Wilson is excited.
"It feels great. It's real big for the Illinois program. We all three players came out expecting to go in the first three rounds, and we all did. So I'm happy for all of us."
New Orleans linebacker coach Joe Vitt called Wilson with the good news. The two spent time together on his visit that fabled city.
"One of my visits was to New Orleans. I did get a chance to sit down with Coach Vitt. We talked some football. It was a good experience. I think I can learn a good deal from him."
Wilson will be playing a different role than he's accustomed to at Illinois.
"They told me outside linebacker, the SAM linebacker over the tight end. The more I learn, the more I'll be given more assignments and have a different role on the team."
Wilson has tremendous potential as a football player. Tall, fast and strong, his best days are still ahead of him despite three quality seasons at the University of Illinois.
Wilson suffered two major injuries that slowed his progress as an Illini. He required extensive surgery to repair a wound suffered trying to rescue a teammate from a gang of thugs. And he lost all but one game of the 2009 season after surgery to correct a ruptured cervical disk.
Some pro teams were leery of the neck injury, but Wilson proved he was healthy after enjoying a stellar season in 2010. Regaining confidence the first couple games, Wilson became the player everyone knew he could be.
The Chicago Simeon product led the Illini in tackles with 112, including 47 solo stops. He was second on the team both in tackles for loss with 11.5 and sacks with 4. He also broke up 4 passes, had 5 quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick.
The 6'-4", 250 pounder has tremendous strength and speed and can be utilized in a variety of ways. Some see him as a rush end with his hand on the ground. But the Illini were always most comfortable patrolling the middle of the defense at linebacker.
Regardless where he plays, he will bring a great deal of athleticism and leadership to the Saints. And he will always be a proud representative of the University of Illinois.