Shaq making quick transition to college level

Freshman linebacker Shaq Wilson got an early start on his Gamecock football career when he graduated from First Coast HS last December and enrolled at South Carolina for the spring semester. Wilson has surpassed expectations so far this spring and has drawn rave reviews from his coaches and teammates alike. Read inside as Wilson discusses his adjustment to the college level and much more.

Scouting report on Shaq Wilson coming out of high school: Wilson projects on the weakside, and he has to be considered one of the most aggressive linebackers in this class. Although he is not the biggest, he plays with a physical mentality and flies around the field. At times Wilson can be a vicious and big time hitter. He plays sideline to sideline and can chase down the ball. Wilson just plays the game with reckless abandon and is always on the prowl. He is also a standout on special teams.

The jump from high school football to big time SEC competition is often times more than the average true freshman can handle, but South Carolina newcomer Shaq Wilson has gotten an early start on the transition this spring and has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson with his work ethic and natural football instincts. In fact, Johnson was quoted following a recent practice, saying that Wilson has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring.

How does a newcomer fresh out of high school respond to such praise? The same way Wilson always has - with humility and the promise of continued hard work.

"It just comes from hard work. That means a lot to me," replied Wilson. "Everybody tells me that (Coach Johnson) knows about everything. He can get you to the next level, and he can get you to compete right now on the college level. I just try to absorb everything he tells me and take it and turn it into a positive. He's making sure that I'm doing good on all my techniques and my reads. He just wants everybody to play at full speed at all times, making sure we all get to the ball and make plays."

Wilson has already built a strong relationship with Johnson, and he believes that the veteran coach will help him grow both as a player and as an individual.

"Coach Johnson is like my new father on the team. I listen to him and believe in everything he tells me. He makes little jokes about how young I am and everything, but he's my mentor. I look at everything he does and listen to everything he says. I know he's going to make me a better player, a better person, and a better man all in one."

The scouting report on Wilson has proven to be accurate, as he is currently backing up Eric Norwood at second team WILL linebacker. However, it hasn't come easy. Wilson credits Norwood and the other returning linebackers for helping him adjust to the demands of the college game.

"Since I'm young, all the linebackers make sure I'm making plays and going hard. I know I'm a smart player so I just absorb everything and go out there and play fast."

Wilson points to his decision to enroll early as another reason for his quick transition to the college level.

"I think it really helped. When I came in, I already knew that everybody was going to be bigger than me, but I knew that my speed and my athleticism would help me out a lot," he said. "Basically, when I got here early I found out I could play with these guys. I started making plays like I did in high school. It's hard for people to block me, but I've got to use my hands more and make sure I stay low. Coming here early definitely helped getting a jump on my academics too. It's been real good."

One of the most grueling challenges for any newcomer is adjusting to the intensity of the offseason conditioning program under strength and conditioning coach Mark Smith, who the players respectfully call "Black Iron." Wilson admits that the winter workouts were difficult at first, but he understands the level of dedication that it takes to be successful in the SEC.

"The winter workouts were hard, waking up at 5:30 in the morning and having to run at 6. Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays I had to lift at 8. That was hard, but after a while you get used to the routine. You know (Coach Smith) is going to make you better. You're going to get bigger, faster and stronger. Everything was good. You've just got to get your mindset (right). I'm out here trying to be a better person and get stronger so I can dominate on the field."

Wilson faced some adversity before spring practice even started, when he got sick and weighed in at a lean 194 pounds in early March. However, the former Florida Union-Times Defensive Player of the Year has worked his way back up to 207 pounds and is aiming to add another ten to fifteen pounds before the fall.

"Basically right now I want to get around 215 or 220. I know I can definitely get there by the fall."

While Wilson projects to play in a reserve role on defense this season, he's also getting a long look on several special teams units. Wilson said he is currently running second team on the punt block and kickoff coverage units, and he would love to be able to contribute there in the fall.

"You definitely want to be on special teams. You want to go out there and make plays in front of Gamecock Nation and a national (TV) crowd," he said. "Everybody understands how important special teams are under Coach Ray (Rychleski)."

Reiterating what he said multiple times during the recruiting process, Wilson made it clear that his goal this year is to help South Carolina win its first ever SEC Championship and contend on the national level.

"I want to go out there this year and show everybody that we're going to be one of the top teams in the SEC and compete for a national championship."

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