Wilson leads revamped South Florida LB corps

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
TAMPA -- Kion Wilson is aiming high for 2009.

"I want to break Tyrone McKenzie's record for tackles," Wilson said.

McKenzie set the South Florida mark with 121 stops in 2007, then added another 116 as a senior last year. With McKenzie gone, Wilson knows that he's the team's top linebacker and that he's got to pick up that production.

"I'm going to be the starter in the middle, so I feel like I should make one out of every three plays," he said.

If the season started today, the Bulls might need Wilson to make plays even more frequently than that. While he's an anchor at middle linebacker, the team has question marks at the other spots.

Inexperience and inconsistency have plagued the outside linebacker candidates this spring, and the starters there might not be determined until some newcomers arrive this summer.

"We're a ways away from having what you'd say are three really solid starters there," co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach David Blackwell said. "I think there will be an awful lot of competition going into the fall."

Even Wilson, a senior, is not all that experienced himself. A junior-college transfer, he had to play a larger role than expected last season when Brouce Mompremier got hurt early in the year. Wilson finished with 66 tackles, which ranked third on the team.

Like many junior-college imports, it took him several games to adjust to FBS-level competition, but he said he gained more confidence as the year went on. Now he finds himself as one of the leaders on defense.

"I try to mentor the guys and tell them how it is," Wilson said. "I'm more of a lead-by-example guy. But I have to step outside my boundaries for the betterment of the team."

Blackwell and head coach Jim Leavitt have had nothing but praise for Wilson this spring.

"He gets it," Blackwell said. "He understands what it takes to be a great player. His work ethic is outstanding, and he sets the standard on the field with how he practices with effort and intensity.

"He's just not a very vocal player. We're trying to get him to grow into that and be the heartbeat of the defense. That position demands it, because of the checks and calls he has to make."

Who will line up next to Wilson? Junior Sabbath Joseph and senior Chris Robinson are currently listed as the starters at the outside slots. Blackwell described Joseph as a quick, athletic player who's been inconsistent, while he said the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Robinson needs to learn how to use his big body and improve his practice habits. Another possibility is Donte Spires, who left the team after the 2007 season but has returned as a walk-on.

Leavitt said that incoming junior-college product Jacquian Williams and freshman Sam Barrington, who chose South Florida over Miami, will be given a hard look this summer for the outside linebacker jobs. The Bulls played so much nickel defense last year that they needed only two linebackers on the field.

"If that's the case, then I think we've got some strength there," Leavitt said.

And the team's defensive line should be so strong this year that the linebackers will be free to roam around and make plays.

"I haven't been touched by a tackle at all yet," Wilson said. "I do encounter guards, but (the line) does a pretty good job of keeping those guys off me. So I'm pretty pleased with that."

The Bulls are pleased with what Wilson is giving them right now. They just need to find him some help.