'I've been here forever'

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the days before Florida's April 7 spring game, James Wilson sought out coach Will Muschamp on the practice field. He had something vitally important to tell him.

"I was pretty ecstatic," Wilson said. "I went to Coach Muschamp and told him, 'Hey coach, I made it through my first spring.'

"He was all happy. It was kind of a big deal, but I've just got to keep trucking. I've got to make it through my first camp now."

Wilson has had very few weeks in which he wasn't hurting from some injury or another, so making it through a month of spring practice was certainly something to celebrate. Especially with what Wilson has been through: four knee surgeries and two broken feet.

Those injuries, though, are the reason Wilson is still at Florida. That was enough evidence for the NCAA to grant his request for a sixth year, and now the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Wilson is finally getting a chance to be a starter along the offensive line.

And he appears to be taking advantage of his extra shot. He is the starter at left guard heading into preseason practices in August.

"James Wilson is probably playing his best football," Muschamp said. "I told him, 'This is your last shot,' and he's played well."

He's finally playing the way many expected when he arrived at Florida in 2007 as the top guard in the nation. It didn't take long, though, before things started to go bad.

He injured the meniscus in his left knee in camp and underwent surgery, only to need a second surgery to repair the problem again three months later. He never played in a game and was redshirted.

Wilson played in 10 games in 2008 but suffered broken bones in both feet in the spring of 2009 and needed a wheelchair to get around. He rebounded to play in 14 games (four starts) in 2009, but he suffered another injury to the meniscus in his left knee early in the 2010 season. He underwent his third surgery and missed the final 10 games of the season.

"It was really tough," Wilson said. "Sometimes I couldn't even get up. I'd have to call AP [head athletic trainer Anthony Pass] to come help me get to the stadium and get my knees loose."

Wilson had another procedure that kept him out of spring practice, but he played in 12 games last season and got the start -- the sixth of his career -- against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.

He says he's completely healthy now and credits Jeff Dillman, the Gators' new director of strength and conditioning, for keeping him that way.

"A lot more power lifting and stuff I did in high school," Wilson said. "I really feel a lot stronger.

"It's more core strength and more controlled lifts. It's more technique-based."

Wilson says the additional strength has him feeling the best he has since he got to Gainesville in 2007, and he's excited about being a major contributor to the 2012 season.

"I still think I've got everything it takes," Wilson said. "I've been here forever, and we've built a lot of chemistry [on the offensive line]. I love my boys and I'm just having fun."