Martez Wilson Already Coming Of Age

Coach Ron Zook has been able to recruit some outstanding athletes to the University of Illinois, and his recruiting ability and willingness to play freshmen has led directly to improved performance on the field. Martez Wilson is one of his best recruits, and his play as a freshman has already drawn local and national recognition.

Martez arrived on campus as a 5-star athlete from Chicago Simeon High School. The 6'-4", 236 pound linebacker showed immediately why he was ranked so high. His physique and speed make him a truly unique individual, and his versatility and determination will likely lead to a long and successful football career.

Playing mostly on special teams to begin the year, Martez dominated. He was almost always involved in tackles on punt and kick returns. He eventually received an increased workload at the weakside (WILL) linebacker spot as he learned the system and gained confidence. He ended the season 12th in tackles with 26, including 2 sacks among his 3 tackles for 16 yards in losses.

Wilson was named Co-Freshman Of The Year along with Arrelious Benn at the Illini's recent awards banquet. And he was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American. He was pleased with the awards.

"Me and Rejus coming in and contributing like we did, that's a good feeling. I think I would have made a lot of All-American lists if I started."

Martez was confident of his decision to attend Illinois, but some people questioned it. After the U of I earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, his friends now understand.

"They say they're glad I came here now. They say it was the right choice. I've been trying to get them to realize it, and now they finally realize it."

His success on the field has created positive benefits for future recruiting in Chicago.

"A lot of people have already told me they're going to come here. They're like, 'Illinois is on the rise, man.'"

Wilson's versatility and athleticism allowed Coach Zook and linebacker coach Dan Disch to plan an increased role as the season progressed.

"Coach Zook eased me into it, and I was just playing WILL. Then he started giving me packages where I might be at the dime or safety, whatever you want to call it, and that felt good too."

Fans and coaches continue to debate whether Wilson should stay at a linebacker or play defensive end. Does he prefer to stay at the WILL spot?

"I'd kind of like to play both. Put my hand down, stand up, I want to do it all."

But for the Rose Bowl, Martez will stay at WILL.

"For the rest of the season I am, but for next year I don't know. There's a lot we can do as far as switching up the linebackers. They may have me at MIKE (in the spring). You never know with our coaches. I want to stay outside. I like outside a lot better."

Wilson understands how hard it is for freshmen to get significant playing time and offers an important reminder to incoming recruits.

"I think learning the plays is the hardest thing for a freshman. If you're a good athlete and can learn the plays fast, you're going to get on the field faster. The coaches try to make it as easy as possible for you with their game plan every week, and the scout team does a good job. The speed of the game is hard, and you've got to adjust to it. Even practice goes way faster than a high school game."

Indeed, Martez was somewhat a lost puppy at the start of Camp Rantoul, playing tentatively as he learned the system. But with time he gained confidence, allowing him to relax and go full speed.

"I learned how to key reads, how to get to your gaps faster, how to play faster and compete every play. Right now, I don't feel like a freshman at all, so I'm out there just playing and not thinking. At the beginning of the season, I was thinking too much, and when you're thinking you don't react as fast. So now I'm out there reacting and playing ball."

Of course, there is always more to learn, and the ambitious Wilson is an eager student with goals.

"Getting to the ball faster, getting to the ball every play, and becoming a better blitzer. I want to get to the quarterback."

The Sports Management major was surprised by the Rose Bowl bid.

"No, we didn't expect that at all. We knew we were a good team and were winning, but we knew the chances were slim. It's an honor going to the Rose Bowl and playing against the Trojans.

"USC is a good team. We admire them alot. They have really good athletes. They're very good at running the ball, they have very good receivers. Overall, we've just got to come in with our heads ready to play."

One thing is for sure. Martez Wilson has his head together, and his best days are still ahead of him. That's a thought that warms Illini hearts while putting fear into opponents.

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