When Shabar Wilson visited Macomb, Ill., on his football recruiting trip, fellow defensive lineman Khalen Saunders served as his host.
“He reminded me of my older brother,” Wilson, who played high school football in Memphis, told the WIU radio team this week.
The two became teammates and are part of a unit that is ranked 30th nationally in total defense for the Leathernecks (2-3).
“We bond together so well,” the 6-foot, 295-pound Wilson said of Saunders, a senior. “I just learned to watch everything he does and implement that into my game.”
Wilson, a sophomore, has piled up 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss this season while mimicking Saunders, who was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference choice last season.
“Shabar is a great example of a guy who just does his job,” WIU head coach Jared Elliott said. “I like the way our defense is playing, and it always starts up front.”
Along with Saunders and Wilson, the WIU front relies on fellow starter Kyle Williams and key reserve Lacale London.
“I can’t say enough about our front,” Elliott said. “It’s a big boy conference. It’s a physical league.”
The Leathernecks will experience plenty of physical today when they host top-ranked North Dakota State (5-0), the top dog in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Bison rush for nearly 290 yards a game.
“This is one game we circle on the calendar every year,” Wilson said. “I always look forward to challenges.”
Three key matchups
- NDSU run game vs. WIU front seven: The Bison, with RBs Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn, ranked eighth nationally at 288.2 rush yards a game. WIU allows about half of that per game.
- WIU QB Sean McGuire vs. NDSU secondary: The WIU senior, who took over the all-time lead in WIU career passing yards and TDs last week, has thrown for 13 TDs. The NDSU defense has allowed five passing TDs this season.
- WIU vs. third down: The Leathernecks need to stay on the field and extend drives. However, they ranked 91st nationally in third-down conversions. The Bison rank 12th.
North Dakota State (5-0) at Western Illinois (2-3), 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13. Game will air on ESPN-Plus.