Evan Wilson surprised everyone but himself with his outstanding play as a true freshman. The tight end's blocking helped Mikel Leshoure break the single season rushing record. He added ten receptions as well.
The 6'-6" rookie lacked the weight normal for a tight end, but a winter of hard work has helped him considerably.
"I've put on about 10-15 pounds. I'm up to 250 to 252 right now. I'm still comfortable, and I'm moving pretty good. I still can get up and down the field. It's a good weight for me right now."
With the added strength comes even better blocking.
"I think it's coming along a lot better than last year. The additional weight from the off season, being in the weight room, helped a lot. I can actually move some people, push people around."
Illinois didn't use the tight end much in the passing game in 2010, in part due to having a rookie quarterback, and in part because Wilson was a rookie who needed to learn more about getting open in the offense. Wilson feels he's becoming a bigger part of the pass offense now.
"Yeah. I'm definitely liking it. A big emphasis we wanted to work on was improving the passing game. I think being a tight end, you can complete those medium throws. It's easier for the quarterback to get into that rhythm than to complete the deep throws."
The Woodstock, Georgia, product had to learn more about getting off the line quickly and gaining separation from defenders. He feels he is making progress.
"It's going good. It's mainly reading the zones and the holes. We can definitely stretch the field, but those zone reads are something I've definitely got to improve on."
"He'll be pushed a little bit this summer; the guys coming in here will give him all he wants."
That's okay. The confident Wilson sees it as a positive.
"I'm definitely not gonna be mad at a little air break now and again. We've got some great guys coming in. They're gonna be some real players. With them coming in, it's really gonna add a lot of good depth at that position."
Wilson made a big catch in the Texas Bowl to help the Illini defeat Baylor. The confidence gained is invaluable for the future. He sees better things ahead.
"It's raised the bar. It was fun, but we expect better now. We know where we can go. We want to go further and go to a better bowl game."
The Illini lost some important contributors and its senior leadership from last fall. Despite that, Wilson believes the remaining squadmen are doing a good job replacing those departed.
"Leadership is great this year. Nathan Scheelhaase has really stepped up in that department. He's really managing every part of the field on the offense. I don't know who fires up the defense, but those guys are always ready to go. Obviously, they're good over there.
"We're definitely feeling confident about the coming fall."
And Zook is feeling confident about Wilson.
"He made a lot of catches, and he dropped a couple. It's just part of being a freshman, but he'll get better and better. The more he can do, the more he can learn, the more he'll get the ball in his hands.
"He's gonna be a big part of the offense. He's such a great kid and he'll work hard. He'll be as good as he possibly can be."