Times' College Football Preview | Craig Wilson

Thornton grad Craig Wilson switches sides, becomes part of Illini defense

2011-08-30T19:00:00Z 2011-08-31T05:20:06Z Thornton grad Craig Wilson switches sides, becomes part of Illini defenseBy Ken Karrson kenneth.karrson@nwi.com, (219) 933-3232 nwitimes.com

He's big enough to do as he pleases in many instances, and what Craig Wilson wanted most was to become a defender.

Of course, no college football player -- even one standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 320 pounds -- gets the final say on where he'll line up. Luckily for Wilson, his coach agreed with him.

Illinois coach Ron Zook actually considered moving the Thornton grad from offense to defense prior to this year, but assistants talked him out of it, citing a lack of depth on the O-line. Nothing was going to dissuade Zook from following through on his plan in 2011, however.

"Even though we recruited him as an offensive lineman, I thought he was going to have a better chance to play on the defensive side of the football," Zook said. "He's big, unbelievably flexible, athletic, tough, strong, (got good) knee bend -- all the things you want (from a defensive lineman)."

Wilson had little background in that area, having stayed mostly on offense during his prep career and one season at Virginia's Hargrave Academy. He admitted, too, that handling the conditioning demands -- which include a significant increase in running -- hasn't been easy.

Wilson, though, hasn't regretted the change at all.

"It's pretty fun, especially since I get to talk a little trash to them," he joked of his teammates on offense. "A lot of the guys were kind of joking and kidding me, (calling me) 'traitor' and all that kind of stuff, but it gives me a chance to go out there and show what I can do."

That was an opportunity not really afforded Wilson previously, as his on-field time usually consisted primarily of work on special teams. Given those circumstances, Wilson didn't figure on a reversal of fortunes while manning a new position, but he entered preseason camp as one of the projected starters along the D-line.

"Coach said, 'I don't want you to go over there and take a back seat -- we need you to go all out,'" Wilson said. "The offense has been working me like a dog, trying to find my weaknesses. I still need to do a lot to get where I need to be, but I think I've made a lot of progress."

Offensive lineman Jeff Allen said Wilson's knowledge of Illinois' attack has been a benefit to him.

"He knows our calls, so that kind of helped (the defensive unit) during scrimmages," Allen said. "He can penetrate a gap and just sit there (because) he's just a load. He's so big that he takes up two guys, so he helps the linebackers.

"He had a great spring and I'm happy for him. I look forward to seeing him have a great year."

And on those days when things might not unfold perfectly, Wilson sees an advantage to being on the prevention side.

"You can let it out the next play," he said. "On offense, when you get mad, you can't really do anything. If I just get frustrated about anything (this season), I don't have to wait to take it out on somebody."


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