As the BCS National Championship Game against LSU neared last year, Wilson knew his broken right leg would not be healed enough to take the field. But as the hours ticked down, Wilson could feel the adrenaline pumping. Suddenly, the leg almost felt good enough to strap on the pads and give it a go, an action that would have burned what was a sure medical redshirt year in the process.
What do to?
"I was thinking, ‘Should I run out there or should I not?' " Wilson said. "So I hid my helmet from myself so I couldn't find it. I hid my helmet behind the bench so I wouldn't even be tempted to play in the game."
Of course, Ohio State ended up falling 38-24, and it's arguable if Wilson's presence on the field would have made much difference in a game which OSU trailed by double digits for the entire second half.
Now, with spring practice having begun Thursday, Wilson is back to full go and – helmet in tow – is not regretting the choice to forgo any thoughts of playing in the title game.
"If I think about it, I think I made the right decision," Wilson said. "I wasn't fully 100 percent for the game so I would have been favoring it. Now that I have two more years I can just go all out."
The Buckeyes will be glad to have Wilson, who will be a junior in 2008. The Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary product was primed, in the minds of many, to have a breakout game in '07 after playing bits and pieces during his first two campaigns. A four-star prospect, he made just two tackles in his freshman campaign of '05 and followed that a year later with 14 stops, five behind the line of scrimmage and three sacks.
The graduation of Jay Richardson after that '06 season opened up a spot, and Wilson, an upperclassman, was ready to fill it with aplomb. In the season opener against Youngstown State, he had already made a sack and assisted on another tackle for loss, but he fell awkwardly while rushing the passer late in the first half and suffered the broken leg.
With Wilson out, it was Gholston who had the breakout year, finishing with a school-record 14 sacks and building himself in to a probable top-10 NFL draft pick in the April event. Now, a year after expecting to line up across from Gholston, Wilson faces the challenge of filling the hole left by the Detroit native, who had more than half of the sacks compiled last year by OSU defensive linemen.
"We're going to miss him a lot," Wilson said. "I think he was the best defensive lineman in the country last year. If you lose the best defensive lineman in the country, it takes a big toll on your defense."
However, Wilson said he's the right man for the job. After the surgery, there was some debate as to whether or not he could return by year's end. That speculation ramped up as the title game neared, and Wilson said OSU largely left the decision up to him. After taking the bowl practices day-by-day, Wilson finally came to the conclusion that he could not go in the days leading up the contest.
While Wilson was unable to play in the game, his line coach and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said that the time spent working with the team was essential in proving he could make it back.
"I think probably the best thing that happened to him was him practicing at the bowl game," Heacock said. "I don't know that anybody knew whether he'd ever have any type of chance, but by throwing him into those practices, that was the hard part for him. But he got through that. By getting though that, I think it really put him into the spring ready to go."
And make no mistake, Wilson said – he's ready to go. Physically, the leg feels 100 percent other than an occasional pain or two. The biggest challenge, thus far, has been shaking off the rust of months of not being able to go at full tilt.
Meanwhile, he's not taking anything for granted now that he's back on the field.
"I definitely think it's important because I missed the whole season," he said. "Nobody knows if I can still do the same things I used to do. I think I have to prove a lot and we have to prove a lot as a defensive line."
As for any concerns that he would hold back out of concern for the leg, he tried to dispel them immediately. He has a rod stabilizing the leg, giving him piece of mind, and he's already survived what would be a scary moment even in the best of times – a collision with tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells.
"Beanie hit it the first day we started hitting," Wilson said. "I got kind of mad at him, but he didn't hit it too bad."
That's good news for Ohio State – as long as Wilson can find his helmet.