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Martez Wilson Will Be Missed, but Zook and the Illini Are Moving On

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Kristofer Green

Martez Wilson's neck started hurting during the spring.

Then, after delivering a punishing hit in the Missouri game, the pain spread down one arm and an MRI was scheduled. Still Wilson never imagined that it was anything more than a fairly common stinger.

For the Illinois junior linebacker, the diagnosis of a herniated disc in his neck came as a surprise. The news that he would need surgery and would miss the entire season was surely a major blow for a player that had worked so hard to get where he was.

Martez Wilson will be missed by the Illini defense this season. Wilson will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck and will likely take a medical redshirt this season.

Last December, Wilson was stabbed outside a Champaign bar after he came to the defense of a former teammate who was involved in a verbal altercation. After undergoing surgery, Wilson made a quick recovery and made a transition to middle linebacker on the football field.

"It's tough," Wilson said Thursday. "I was planning to do so much this year, as far as helping the team on defense and trying to [make Illinois] one of the best defenses in the nation. I put in all the hard work in the off-season. Then to come to an injury I can't do nothing about, it really hurts me and it hurts the team."

This season was going to be Wilson's time to shine. He was primed and ready to follow in the footsteps of recent Illini star middle linebackers J. Lehman and Brit Miller. Instead Wilson will likely receive a medical redshirt.

Where does that leave a defensive unit that currently ranks last in pass defense and tenth in both total defense and scoring defense?

Zook announced today that he will promote redshirt freshman Evan Frierson to middle linebacker with sophomores Ian Thomas and Russell Ellinington remaining on the outside.

Frierson was held out of preseason camp last season while the NCAA cleared him academically before redshirting. But this season, the talented freshman has made the most of his opportunities and has impressed coaches during the 25 snaps he has logged in the first two games.

The Illini, who is idle this weekend, will use the time to prepare for a September 26 trip to Columbus to face Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes, a challenge now made even more difficult.

Zook said that the Illini will likely use both its base defense with three linebackers, as well as a nickel package with two linebackers to try to slow down Ohio State's versatile quarterback.

"We talk about adversity and our team knows others will have to step up and fill his shoes," Zook said. "You have to handle adversity. I think they are ready to do that."

Only time will tell, but Wilson plans on being there every step of the way.

"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."

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