Thornton High School product Craig Wilson came to Illinois from prep school with glowing credentials. He had the size and athleticism to be labeled a future starter on the offensive line. But going into his third year, he is still stuck on the second team.
"I want to be a starter," Wilson admits. "That's one of my main goals. But they kept holding me back, saying I needed to work on this and that. There's definitely been a hard road for me to follow. There have been a lot of good guys that have been here before. I'm trying my best to live up to them."
One of those predecessors is the now graduated Xavier Fulton. When asked who would replace him this year, without hesitation Fulton said Craig Wilson.
"I'm trying to live up to him. He's kind of like my big brother. Me and him always tease each other. We're kind of from the same area. I live in the town next to his. There's a lot of tension between our schools, but now we're big buddies."
Craig was somewhat in a state of limbo last year. He was relegated to the bottom of the pecking order and didn't get many reps in practice until late in the year when injuries depleted the ranks. He hopes to prevent a reoccurrence.
"I felt I could have contributed a little bit more, but I really don't question the coach. If he felt he needed to hold me back a little longer, I respect that. It made me want to work harder."
Wilson feels his learning has been accelerated this spring for two reasons.
"It's coming along a lot faster with experience. Some of the plays are tweaked a little bit, but it's still coming along faster. I understand it a lot better. I think a lot of guys feel like they can get it and understand it, and understand it to its full potential too.
"I think that's due to the new offensive coordinator and line coach. It's a lot simpler than last year."
Offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert are new to the team this spring, and the 6'-5", 320 pounder says they have made a favorable impression.
"There's still a lot the same. They work with me and seem like they care. The offensive coordinator and offensive line coach seem like pretty good people. They're willing to work with you outside of football and encourage me to come in and get extra work. I like that."
Craig has been tried some at guard as well at tackle. He prefers tackle but is open to suggestion.
"I've been playing tackle so long, but whatever gets me on the field I want to play. When I did play guard, I was a little shaky at first because I didn't really know all the plays to it. But I'll give it a shot."
When asked to describe his best assets, his answer fits the all-important left tackle position perfectly.
"I have long arms. And a lot of linebackers don't expect me to be as quick. I don't get tired as fast either. I know during 6:00am's, a lot of guys were saying, 'He's gonna get tired pretty soon.' But then they realize we're down to the last station and I'm still going hard."
He also recognizes areas in which he needs improvement.
"Pass protection. And make sure I understand the offense a whole lot better."
Wilson hopes to create his own college major.
"I'm undecided, but I'm leaning toward this new major coming up called I Help, which you can pretty much mold a major within this major. For example, you can do RST (Recreation, Sports, Tourism) and Community Health and make that your own major. Hopefully I can get in."
Craig Wilson is an upperclassman, and he is starting to feel like one. But he still has the youthful zeal to want to play ball at Illinois.
"I'm doing pretty good. I do feel pretty old, but I try to stay young-minded."