Illini freshman gets chance to prove his talent

By Mike Theodore

If opponents didn’t get acquainted with Martez Wilson last season, things will likely change come next fall.

While another freshman, receiver Arrelious Benn, grabbed most of the headlines, Wilson played sparingly last season while backing a solid linebacker core. But if spring ball is any indication, Wilson will be a major cog in the Illinois defense.

Gone are All-American middle linebacker J Leman and outside starter Antonio Steele. In their wake, senior Brit Miller will move from outside to middle linebacker, leaving two openings on the outside.

Enter Wilson — but don’t put it in stone just yet.

“It’s wide open to be honest,” co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch said. “We’re trying to give him a chance to make it his but he hasn’t made it his yet. He’s working hard and doing well. I don’t want to pencil any one of them in yet.”

Wilson said the team is adapting to life without Leman but still needs improvement.

“It’s going OK. We still need to learn how to communicate better as a team,” Wilson said. “We need to make more plays and play with more intensity.”

As a true freshman, Wilson saw action in all 13 Illini games and notched 29 total tackles while playing primarily on special teams.

“I love special teams for one,” Wilson said. “It felt good to come in and get a feel for the college experience.”

“Any time you can get a kid in a game in front of people it helps,” Disch said. “Otherwise you get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look. He still has a little bit of that but not as much.”

Wilson earned honorable mention on’s Freshman All-American Team a year ago. Heading into his sophomore season, Wilson isn’t setting any statistical goals.

“My goal is to be the best I can be at my position,” Wilson said. “My goal is to be an All-American. That’s my number one goal.”