Illinois' defense has suffered a major blow as the team announced Thursday that starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson will miss the remainder of the season with a herniated disk in his neck.
Wilson, a two-year starter who moved over to middle linebacker during the offseason, will undergo surgery in the near future. He has a redshirt year available and will have two years of eligibility remaining.
"We feel awful for Martez," Illinois 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."
Wilson's neck started bothering him after Illinois' season opener against Missouri, in which he played and recorded 5.5 tackles. He didn't play last week against Illinois State because of what the team called a strained neck.
"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, one of the top recruits in Illinois' heralded 2007 class, appeared in all 13 games as an outside linebacker as a true freshman. He finished third on the team with 73 tackles last year to go along with three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Wilson underwent surgery in December after being stabbed during a fight outside a Champaign, Ill., bar. Wilson, from Chicago, had come to the aid of a former Illinois teammate.
Illinois (1-1) has a bye this week and returns to action next Saturday at Ohio State.
Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.