How many 6'-4", 250 pound middle linebackers with 4.4 forty speed are there in the country? Maybe only one, Illinois senior Martez Wilson. He has struggled with injuries the last two years, including a herniated disc in his neck early last season. Now is the time for him to prove his worth.
First of all, he is healthy and cleared to play. Neck injuries are always a concern, but his summer activities demonstrate full recovery.
"This summer I participated in every workout, did my lifts as normal and did good in all those," Wilson relates. "It should be good."
The mental aspect may be more important than the physical. Anyone concerned about reinjury will play at less than peak efficiency. Wilson is working on it.
"Just getting your mental toughness together. That's a tough injury to come back from. I have to get 100% confidence back in my body and stop all the second guessing."
He may use neck support, more for a sense of security than actual need. He hasn't decided which of several choices serves his needs best.
"I'll figure out what kind of protection I might wear through camp. I tried the washboard for one practice last spring and actually liked it."
Through early fall practices, Wilson has been playing well. The rest of the defense looks up to him. When he is on the field, they can relax and play their positions with confidence. He recognizes a difference.
"It changes. There's a comfortability factor. They're comfortable because everybody's in their position and just playing. If everybody is accountable for their position, that not only will make me feel comfortable but makes them feel comfortable as well."
Wilson recognizes his stature on the team, and he is committed to being a good leader.
"Definitely. I'm a junior in eligibility, but I'm a senior. A lot of guys look up to me to take them under my wing, and I'm looking to take them under my wing. I feel I have to help them on and off the field with every little aspect. If they see that, then they'll add the same in return."
One thing this team needs is to put last year's failures behind it and move forward with confidence. Wilson believes that has been accomplished.
"I definitely do. All the players are very confident this year. Everyone bonds to the new coaches, everyone knows the plays. We know what we want to accomplish, and everyone can anticipate success. I think the attitude of the team is way better. We want to win, as a whole."
After the Rose Bowl season, returnees had the notion they were good and should win. They had targets on their back and were the hunted rather than the hunters. For whatever reasons, that attitude didn't serve them well. Now, they are tired of losing and hungry to get back on a winning track.
Wilson feels the team attitude is a plus going into the season. The players know they can't rest on their laurels. They must prove their worth all over again and must work harder than ever.
"Definitely. This was one of the best summers we've had in a long time. Probably since my freshman year. We're ready. The attitude is similar to the Rose Bowl year. I was there, I experienced it. So I can vouch for the fact the attitude is definitely there."