Lawrence Wilson made the biggest defensive play of the 2008 season for Connecticut. This year, he seems to be involved in nearly every defensive play for the Huskies.
The junior linebacker leads the Big East with 130 tackles. The next closest player in the league, Louisville's Jon Dempsey, is 23 tackles behind and has already finished his season, while Lawrence has a game left Saturday against South Florida. Wilson's 11.82 tackles per game ranks third in the FBS.
"The way I played is kind of shocking to myself," he said. "I just try to play hard every play, like it's the last play I'll ever play."
Wilson has had good years before. He had 113 tackles as a freshman and 73 as a sophomore. Last year, he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes to cap a comeback win at Louisville.
When Scott Lutrus, who led the team in tackles the last two seasons, missed much of the first half of the year with shoulder problems, Wilson had to take on a bigger role.
"Definitely," Wilson said. "With him out, I feel like everybody had to pick up how they played."
Wilson said he's gotten better at using his hands and squaring up on ball carriers this year. With three years of experience under his belt, he's not surprised by anything any more. Playing the weakside linebacker spot allows him to run free and get to the ball.
He sure did a lot of that last week, making 17 tackles against Syracuse.
"He's been very, very steady all year long," coach Randy Edsall said. "He's played a lot of football for us, so he's a young man who understands the scheme we're playing. The thing about it is, consistently week in and week out, you see the same thing from Lawrence. That's what you're always looking for as a coach."
Wilson's nickname is "Bama," owing to the unusual fact that he ended up at Connecticut despite growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and attending Paul Bryant High School. No SEC teams showed him interest, and he had family that lived in Connecticut, so UConn made sense for him.
He's a quiet, unassuming sort who says he never looks at the tackle statistics. The Huskies will need his steady play this week against South Florida. Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels loves to scramble around and often leaves would-be tacklers grasping for air.
"We're just going to have to go at him hard and take our shots," Wilson said. "We have to jam him."
The Big East's leading tackler should know.