Big, Fast Wilson Now Has His Time to Shine

The Illinois football team has recruited some top athletes since Coach Ron Zook arrived four years ago. It is beginning to gain a national reputation and consideration among the preseason elite in college football. One of their most talented and explosive athletes is sophomore weakside linebacker Martez Wilson.

The product of Chicago Simeon high school, Martez has an exceptional combination of size and speed. At 6'-4" and 250 pounds, he is one of the fastest players on the team.

"We got tested in the spring, and I ran a 4.4 in the indoor facility, which slows you down."

Despite the speed, Wilson hasn't raced against the Illini backs and receivers.

"We talk a lot, but we don't race because we don't want to pull any muscles. They know I'm not slow, so I try to make them work as hard as possible. They help me too because it's a lot harder for the defensive guy to know how fast to run, and we've got to run them down."

Playing as a special teams terror while backing up Antonio Steele at the WILL spot, Martez was credited with 29 total tackles on the year, with three tackles for 16 yards in losses. Illini coaches brought him along slowly, but that experience makes a world of difference for this season.

"It's a lot different than last year. It's crazy what one year will do to you. Just one year of playing and going through the whole college thing changes a whole lot. I now know exactly what to expect, what to do and what not to do. My duty is to show the young kids the ropes, show them what to do and the right way to do it."

Spring practice began slowly for Martez, but the light came on about halfway through.

"It started out a little rough. But as the spring progressed, I got better. It was new to me being a starter, but I got better. I wasn't doing all the thinking I was doing at first."

Wilson says that pass defense is easier for him to learn than rush defense.

"My pass defense is coming real good. Rush defense is actually harder to learn. With pass defense, you've either got the slot receiver or the running back or tight end, and that's it.

"As far as run defense, you have to know what gap to hit, you have to know what shoulder to hit the man that's coming at you, so that's tougher. You're sometimes thinking if this is the right one because you have to know which way to send the running back, so that's tough."

But the learning is coming easier now. He explodes through holes and roams sideline to sideline so fast it looks like others are standing still. Summer work helped to further refine techniques, gain confidence in the system, and gain strength and conditioning. Wilson saw another benefit as well.

"Summer was more of a chemistry-building thing, doing a lot of 7 on 7, doing a lot of hanging out with each other. Doing it as a team without the coaches."

Depth is a concern at linebacker, but Martez sees some help on the way from the new freshmen.

"The young kids are showing a lot of athleticism. I think Justin Staples will play behind me. He's nice, he's fast and has potential. Nate Palmer from my high school is nice. I don't know what position he's gonna play. The young linebackers are gonna come in with some attitude. We're gonna definitely need some depth. We can't be out there every play."

Linebackers rely on the defensive line to steer plays their way and keep blockers off them. Wilson and his linebacking mates have one of the best d-lines in the country in front of them.

"It's a good feeling knowing you've got those big guys going up against the offensive linemen every play, knowing they'll do their jobs. They help my game alot. They're fast and powerful, and they make plays."

Martez is excited about the potential of the entire defense.

"If we play our top game, potentially we'd be in the top five in the nation. Our d-line is very good and talented, linebackers are fast, although we did lose J, and we've got an experienced and fast secondary. If we put that all together with our skill, we'll be one of the best defenses in the nation."

Wilson looks forward to his first start against Missouri and has high goals for the season.

"Against Missouri, if our speed can match their speed, we can have a good game. I'm looking for my first start and getting this show on the road. The team really expects the season to be good. We expect to get back to where we were last year. Our goal is to make a BCS bowl.

"It's a lot of hard work, but the feeling is we're doing it because we want to."

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