Martez Wilson: Crucial to the Illini Defense

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Few have been more maligned on the Illini defense than highly touted Illini recruit Martez Wilson.  From his lack of a mark on the field to his off-field exploits, he’s had a tough go of it in Champaign.

However, much like they should be, his experiences have only gone to make him stronger, again, both on and off the field. He missed pretty much all of 2009 due to injury, but one good piece of news coming from the Zook Big Ten Media Day press conference, was the health of middle linebacker Martez Wilson.

“He had a great, great spring. He had a great camp. He was playing as well as any Mike linebacker I’ve been around probably anywhere,” Zook said. “In fact, actually he went through spring, he didn’t go through the contact. It was hard to keep him out of it because he was always trying to stick his face where he shouldn’t stick it. Just got his final checkup last week, and got 100 percent clean bill of health and ready to go.”

Wilson’s health means that the defense will automatically be more athletic and dangerous than they were last season.

By Paul Schmidt

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Much of Wilson’s growth stems from the now-infamous stabbing incident in December 2008, when he was out at a local bar called Fubar with one of his former teammates – Eastern Illinois standout running back D’Angelo McCray – and two of McCray’s friends from Eastern.

A fight had broken out involving McCray’s friends, and he and McCray went to go help when McCray was hit in the head with a bottle. That was when Wilson, just trying to help his friends and teammates, intervened, and went to the ground.

He didn’t even realize that he had been stabbed until he got to the hospital and went into surgery.

Wilson is completely forthcoming about the incident, which most know the details of now, but he still doesn’t know one part of the story.

“I really don’t know what happened there, or what really started it, actually,” Wilson said.

The incident has also made him more responsible with his life.martez

“I am more aware of everyone everybody when I go out now, for sure.  If I do decide to drink, for one, I make sure that I have someone who doesn’t drink with me, and I don’t drink as much any more, either,” Wilson said. “I also have people with me so we can always look around our surroundings to make sure we’re ok.  I don’t go out as much as I used to…maybe every once in a while, but not near as much as back then, my freshman and sophomore years.”

With that responsibility of being a leader and a scholarship holder on the football field does come a price, and it comes in sacrificing a little of the typical college experience that we all are familiar with.

“It doesn’t really hold me back, but at the same time I play more of a responsibility role, like coaches don’t tell me not to go out, they just tell me to be smart about it,” Wilson explained. “You know, they say you don’t need to fight, and they’re right, there’s no point to it. It’s not worth it, and I can’t afford to be putting myself back in that situation again.”

That type of maturity is something the Illini will be counting on this fall from Wilson, as he tries to fill the shoes left by J Leman three years ago and Britt Miller two seasons ago.

As for the challenge of moving from the outside to the inside, Zook also doesn’t believe that will be a problem for Martez.

“We’ve done it with J, and we’ve done it with Britt, and I just think that with the offenses that we see, you’re going to see a lot of spread offenses and that middle guy is to have to be able to run, and be able to move,” Zook said. “They’ll empty the backfield, and you’re going to have to have a guy that can run.  But on the same token, the only thing about Martez now is that he’s benching 405, he’s pulling 328 from the floor, he can hold his own against anybody in the middle.”

Wilson agrees that the one thing he has really had to change in coming to a Big Ten school from the Chicago Public League is his strength.

“I would say that I’ve had to get more physical than then,” Wilson said. “I’ve always had the speed, but I would say I’m more physical now, that I’m more of a hitter. I’m trying to be more of a hitter, and filling the gaps and just learning how to play the game of football better.”

That learning curve is hopefully near completion or at it’s apex, because Zook, the coaching staff and the rest of the Illini defense really are counting on big things from Wilson and plan on having the defense revolve around him.

“The last two, actually the last three years, our Mike linebacker has led the Big Ten in tackles,” Zook said prior to the start of the 2009 season. “I don’t want to put the pressure on him that he’s not doing a good job if he doesn’t lead the Big Ten in tackles, but he’s a guy that a lot of things revolve around him, with our calls and so forth, and it’s going to be important that he has the kind of year that we think he can.”

For his part, Wilson seems up to the task.

“Coming in as the middle assignment linebacker I feel confident, I feel great about our defense,” Wilson said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to camp, the first game against Missouri. I’m ready, and I’m focused.”

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Comments

  1. Paul Schmidt says

    He’s going to be a big key on the defense, and if he can hold down the mike responsibilities, with his speed (he’s probably one of the two or three fastest guys on the team), he’ll be able to wreak some serious havoc on defense.

  2. Paul Schmidt says

    Yup, McCray’s the guy, and he ran up…what, like 180 yards on us last year when he played against us. He was happy to get some revenge.

    And the Shannony Ryan thing was REALLY funny…not only was she the only female reporter there, she was the only PERSON at the table when he did. “Could you show me your scar, Martez? Oh, my!”

  3. paulmbanks says

    AS much as everyone wanted to talk about the stabbing on Media Day, I’m much more interested in what he does on the field this fall. Like it seems that he makes so many tackles with just his arms and raw athleticism. not from being able to make the right reads, adjustements and be in the right place to get low and drive his legs into opposing ballcarriers

  4. paulmbanks says

    It was kind of funny at Media Day when Martez lifted up his jersey to show his scar to Shannon..Only because she was the only female reporter there…so McCrary was the highly recruited guy from FLA that was all trouble and kicked off the team,right?

  5. paulmbanks says

    That moment would have been even better only if West was there to see it. I can just hear he voice now “PB LAWRYS!”

  6. look martez is one of my closet friends he is like my brother. we sit and talk all the time & over the year i watch a boy become a man. you really have no idea what the stabbing & neck injury did 2 him. He is more hungry and focus then every before. he does care doubt the individual award and spotlight. he is all about winning football games & meaning the goal he set when hestep on camps day 1, “To help Illinois become one of the most respect football program in the country.”

  7. i mean he doesn’t care about the individual awards and spotlight.

  8. paulmbanks says

    Well I hope he is that hungry and motivated, it can only be better for our program. I do hope this is THE YEAR for him. Illinois needs it.

    I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be stabbed and then suffer a season ending neck injury in back to back years. I am a two time cancer survivor, and I have a scar as big as scars usually come on my chest. so I know physical pain.

    Of course, I can’t say it’s a situation that you can compare to what he’s been through, on either side

  9. paulmbanks says

    and thank you for stopping by and reading. we appreciate it. spread the word

  10. Hey shnjhns….I hope it didn’t come off in the story like i was giving martez crap. couldnt be further from the truth. I totally respect what he has gone through, and it does seem like he has dealt with the adversity well as a person — that is really all you can ask for.

  11. paulmbanks says

    Yeah, I think you were respectful. admiring even

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