Illinois' Wilson regaining top form

Martez Wilson's teammates have seen improvement in him each week. Jeff Curry/US Presswire

Most players find standing on the sideline and watching the games to be the most difficult part of being injured.

Sure, Illinois junior linebacker Martez Wilson missed being able to drop opposing players with crushing hits and would rather have been out on the field with his teammates. But it wasn't what he craved the most, though, while he sat out the final 11 games of last season with a herniated disc in his neck.

No, Wilson found himself yearning for the preparation of each game: The planning; the film; the fixing of mistakes. The areas most players could do without if given the choice.

"It hurt more in practice than in games," Wilson said. "Just going into the game plans and seeing what we did wrong in practice and correcting that."

That feeling hasn't changed for Wilson, despite now being healthy and being able to play again. Since the season began, Wilson has immersed himself more into all things football, from the preparation to the games than ever before. With each week of doing that, Wilson has progressively taken steps to again becoming the dominant linebacker he was pre-injury.

"I don't think the injury slowed me down," said Wilson, who leads Illinois with 25 tackles through three games. "I know it took me away from the game. I think I'm getting back to where I should be and be even better. There's no holding me back. There's so much expectation put upon on me from my coaches, my teammates and myself."

The last time Wilson took the field was a confidence booster for him. After not playing to his expectations in the season-opener against Missouri or against Southern Illinois, Wilson entered Week 3's match up against Northern Illinois feeling a whole lot more like his old self.

And he played like it. He was reading plays before they happened. He was flying around to the ball. He was making tackles. He finished the day with a team-high 11 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.

"I started out a little shaky because I hadn't been out there," Wilson said. "As the weeks go by, my instincts are getting better. I wouldn't say I'm at my full potential."

Fellow linebacker and close friend Ian Thomas has taken notice of Wilson's growth.

"I've seen a difference in him from game to game," Thomas said. "He's playing a lot faster. I've definitely seen progress. From the first week to now, he's making the reads and getting to the ball faster."

Just as important, Wilson's neck hasn't bothered him.

"It feels good," Wilson said. "I felt really comfortable going into the NIU game. I really feel comfortable now that my neck has healed. I grind it out and have to trust it every game. My doctor says I'm alright.

"Don't get me wrong it's always in my mind, but I won't let it affect my game. I'm enjoying it. There's no regrets now. You do appreciate the game a lot more. You know it could have been taken away from you so fast and so sudden."