Keeping Loose

West Virginia defensive lineman Craig Wilson is one of the more exuberant and free-spirited members of the Mountaineer football team, and his love of the game shines through no matter what the situation.

Whether it's the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl or one of the many spring practice sessions he has worked his way through, the Rive Ridge, La. native brings the same sort of attitude to the field, and it was just that outlook that helped the WVU defense record several dominating performances during spring scrimmage sessions.

"Every time I step on the field, or anything that involves competition, I want to win," Wilson said of his approach. "As a defense, we know that when we play well, we help the offense get better."

While Wilson, a disruptive force at both nose and tackle during his Mountaineer career, doesn't profess to have a great deal of insight into the offensive side of the ball, he was able to pinpoint a reason for the upper hand the defense held through much of the spring.

"The offense is all about timing," the senior defender noted. "I don't know a lot about the offense, but I think they just have to get their timing down. Defense is all about reaction and getting to the ball."

With less work required to hone the sort of teamwork required to make an offense go, Wilson believes it's natural that the defense has an advantage during the spring, when much of the emphasis is on improving fundamentals. Defenders can often make plays on their own more easily than offensive players can, and as a result the defense often has an edge during that time. The same holds true in early fall, when the offense is still being installed and new wrinkles introduced.

However, Wilson, like most of the defenders on WVU's team, thinks the offense "will be all right" by the time the season rolls around. He knows that the just-completed spring session is more about individual improvement, which is the building block for team success.

"We just have to keep getting better every day," said Wilson, echoing the mantra he has heard from Mountaineer coaches for the past four years. "You can't go a lot on what happens at practice every day, with the offense and the defense against each other. You just have to get better every day and work hard."

Wilson has certainly done that during his WVU career, first grabbing notice as a relentless battler at nose before being moved outside last year. That switch didn't bother him in the slightest, and certainly won't be a factor to him in 2006.

"I really don't care [which position I play]," said Wilson, who, in many respects, is a throwback type of player. "I just love to go out and play ball. I want to help the defense as much as I can. They can move me anywhere. I'll go there and play."

As a senior, Wilson is also counted on to provide leadership to the youngsters on the team. But while many players take on that responsibility by helping with assignments and techniques, Wilson focuses on a different area.

"I'm a funny guy," the 6-1, 280-pound lineman said in a bit of an understatement. "I just help them stay relaxed. I try to keep the pressure off them by talking with them and making them laugh on the sidelines. I think that helps them adapt to everything else."

Wilson, along with veteran teammates like Warren Young, Keilen Dykes and Pat Liebig, has certainly done just that. West Virginia appears to be deeper at defensive line than it has been in a number of years, and has several youngsters ready to make contributions this fall.

"Scooter Berry is a very good player. He took tremendous steps for a young guy this spring," Wilson explained. "Johnny Dingle did very well this year. And Doug Slavonic helps us have great depth in there too. Our rotation should be very good."

Should WVU's defensive line hit a rough patch, it can count on Wilson to lead it out of the doldrums. While the game is a serious business, Wilson manages to keep it all in perspective with a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh that booms throughout the confines of whatever room he is in. His excellent mix of hard work and enjoyment of the game sets a standard that other players would be wise to emulate.

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