Wilson is one of three Pirates to make preseason C-USA squad

Published 11:06 am Thursday, July 17, 2008

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
There was a time, not too long ago, when C.J. Wilson wondered if he’d ever get the chance to play Division-I football.
As a senior at Northside High School, Wilson was a phenominal talent, a 6’4”, 290-pound sack machine with exceptional speed. He was big and brawny. Quick and fast. Sharp and skilled. Everything a college scout dreams of.
With one exception.
While Wilson applied himself on the football field, he failed to do so in the classroom. And by the time he hit the books with the same intensity that made him a football star for the Panthers, it was nearly too late.
Most of the prominent NCAA schools shied away. But East Carolina coach Skip Holtz stepped in and gave Wilson a chance.
He convinced Wilson to enroll at ECU in the fall of 2005, and depending on his grades, would guarantee Wilson a spot on the football field the following spring.
Wilson took the offer, and with a newfound focus on academics, became eligible to join the Pirates’ program in 2006.
In 2006, he worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman and led the Pirates’ defense with four sacks, while recording 29 tackles to earn All C-USA Freshman Team honors.
Last season, he took another step forward, starting nine games for the 8-5 Pirates. He finished the season ranked sixth in Conference USA with a team-leading seven sacks and upped his total tackles to 36. After the season, he was selected to Conference USA’s second-team defense.
Now, the expectations for Wilson are higher than ever. On Wednesday, the 12 Conference USA coaches selected Wilson and two other ECU stars as members of C-USA’s FirstTeam Preseason All-Conference team.
Doug Palmer, a junior offensive lineman, and Zack Slate, a senior defense end who plays opposite of Wilson, were the other two Pirates named to C-USA’s First-Team Preseason All-Conference team.
Palmer enters the 2008 with only one year of experience along the offfensive line after making the move from defensive tackle last season. He started all 13 games at right guard for ECU, and recorded 35 knockdowns after playing 673 snaps.
The undersized Slate (6’5”, 222 pounds), has started team-best 18 consecutive games for the Pirates. He was a second-team All-Conference selection in 2007 after recording 49 tackles and logging a team-leading 11.5 tackles-for-losses.
Slate says the coaches are’t the only ones with high expectations this season.
The coaches of Conference-USA are just the latest in a long line of people who think the trio of Wilson, Palmer and Slate are poised for great seasons. All three have also been named to the preseason all-conference team by Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and Phil Steele Magazine.