Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
This was supposed to be Martez Wilson's breakout season. Instead, the Illinois junior middle linebacker will have to wait until 2010 to make his mark in Champaign.
Wilson will miss the remainder of the 2009 campaign with a herniated disk in his neck, the team announced Thursday. He will undergo surgery to repair the disk in the coming days.
"We feel awful for Martez," Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook said in a statement. "He worked so hard and had such a great offseason. I'm really proud of him for that. You never want to see injuries happen, but we feel that we were able to catch this in time to ensure a successful surgery and recovery for Martez. I feel confident that he will return from the injury stronger and with more determination next year. We talk about adversity and our team knows others will have to step up and fill his shoes. I think they are ready to do that."
Wilson's neck started bothering him after the season opener against Missouri, but he started and played in the game, recording 5.5 tackles. He missed last week's win against Illinois State.
A two-year starter at outside linebacker who moved to the middle this offseason, Wilson has a redshirt year available and will retain two seasons of eligibility. Still, this is an extremely tough break for a player who has dealt with a lot of adversity during his time at Illinois.
"Of course, I am upset and frustrated, but you can't control injuries," Wilson said in a statement. "The biggest thing for me is that I have a lot of support around me with my family, the coaches and my teammates and they will help me get through this. I was really looking forward to being a leader on this defense, but I can still do that from the sidelines. I will get healed and make sure I am 100 percent for next season."
Wilson underwent surgery in December after being stabbed during a fight outside a Champaign bar. He had come to the aid of a former teammate when he was stabbed.
The Chicago product made a quick recovery and transitioned well to middle linebacker, a spot where predecessors Brit Miller and J Leman had starred. Wilson really seemed like a changed man when we talked last month at Illinois' training camp. He had rededicated himself to the game and his new position after falling short of expectations in his first two seasons as a starter.
"I've grown up a lot," Wilson told me in August. "It's crazy what a year will do to you. It was more of a mental thing, knowing how good I could be. I've listened to what everybody tells me, the good and bad comments. I'm ready to fulfill everyone's expectations. Especially mine."
He'll have to wait until next fall to meet those expectations.
Illinois (1-1), which has a bye this week, will look for sophomore Russell Ellington and others to step up. Ellington started last week in Wilson's place and recorded eight tackles with an interception and two pass breakups against Illinois State.
The Illini open Big Ten play Sept. 26 at Ohio State.