Wilson already has a sackful of honors|ECU’s No. 95 wants to go out on top

Published 1:45 pm Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sports Editor

GREENVILLE — Seeing just one No. 95 could be enough to give players like Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor fits. Seeing a whole slew of them inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium just may give them nightmares.
The No. 95 for the East Carolina Pirates belongs to star defensive end C.J. Wilson, tabbed the 2009 C-USA preseason Player of the Year. Wilson, a former standout at Northside High School, will likely wreak havoc on quarterbacks all season long. The 6-4, 290-pound sensation will have more than his fair share of backers cheering him on from the stands.
Wilson’s No. 95 jersey has been selling well, and those jerseys will be on full display this season.
“When I saw that (they were being sold), I was amazed and very excited,” Wilson said with a big smile. “To see your jersey being sold means a lot. Everybody wants to have that. It just means a lot to me.”
Wilson, who will also be going after players like North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates and West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown on the road, is coming off a solid 2008 season. The senior led the Pirates with 10.5 sacks (for 61 yards in loss) and 18.5 tackles-for-loss (for 84 yards). He also recorded 70 tackles, five quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.
The accolades followed once the season came to an end. Wilson was named the 2008 C-USA Defensive Most Valuable Player by Sporting News Magazine, earned C-USA First Team honors by league coaches and by Phil Steele Magazine, and was named to the 2008 Collegefootballnews.com All C-USA First Team.
The awards didn’t stop there. Along with his C-USA preseason Defensive Player of the Year nod from league coaches, Wilson earned the same tag from CBSSports.com and Rivals.com.
Wilson was also tabbed a Preseason Honorable Mention All-America selection by CollegeFootballNews.com.
Wilson is also one of 30 preseason candidates named for the 2009 Ted Hendricks Defensive End-of-the-Year Award. The Hendricks Award, in its eighth year, is named in honor of college football’s first three-time first-team All-American.
On top of that, Wilson has been named a preseason candidate to the 2009 Bronko Nagurski Watch List, given to the nation’s best defensive player, and named to the 40th Annual Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List, given to the nation's top college football lineman (offense or defense) who, in addition to outstanding performance and ability, best exemplifies the discipline of Vince Lombardi.
ECU head coach Skip Holtz said Wilson is worthy of every honor.
“He’s like a freak,” Holtz said. “The way he can jump, as fast as he is, as big as he is and his strength, he’s a tremendous player.
“Even better, he’s a phenomenal young man. He’s extremely humbled; he goes back to church with his parents (and) he sings and plays instruments in the choir at his church. He’s a great young man. I’m proud of him and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to coach him.”
Despite the bevy of honors, nearly as long as the accomplishments the piano-playing, gospel-singing, academic standout has achieved off the field, the affable Wilson remains grounded.
“I know how hard I had to work to get here,” Wilson said. “I always stay humble.”
Along with his coaching staff, which includes Holtz, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and position coach Vernon Hargreaves, Wilson keeps grounded thanks to a loving and supportive family. His parents, Amos and Doris Wilson, are a huge influence on his life.
“Just about all my success started with my parents. They are very religious, and they are always staying on me about praying, believing and having faith,” said Wilson, who constantly praises God for his opportunities. “That relates a lot onto the football field. You believe in your teammates, and you have that faith that you’re going to make that play when you work hard. I have to thank them for that.”
Wilson has certainly had plenty of success on the field. He has 21.5 sacks, 35 tackles-for-loss, 21 quarterback hurries and 133.5 tackles in his career.
Hudson, the mastermind of the ECU defense, had nothing but praise for his star defensive end.
“He’s a very good player, athletic and well-rounded,” Hudson said. “The type of person he is is off-the-chart. He’s somebody you hope your own son grows up to be like.”
While Wilson works hard on the field, he works just as hard in the classroom. He holds a communications degree and is an honor roll student.
“That was very important to me,” Wilson said about earning his degree. “Playing football, you can get hurt the next day. Getting that degree, that will be there forever. Nobody can take that away from you.”
Wilson didn’t have the best grades when he arrived at ECU. However, he hit the books just as hard as he levels a quarterback.
“It took hard work and dedication,” Wilson said. “I have to give a lot of thanks to the staff, to (academic coordinator) Melissa Lewis and to coach Holtz. He cares more about you as a person than a player. He makes sure that we get our grades right and I thank him for that.”
Wilson uses that same passion when it comes to his play on the field. He spent the off-season working “on the little things” to get better.
“Like with Michael Jordan and all the greats, they always go back to the basics,” Wilson said. “I’m just perfecting everything; sharpening the sword. I can look at more film. There’s always something you can do to get better every day.”
Wilson, who helped lead the Pirates to a C-USA championship last year, is hoping that hard work pays off.
“I want to do better than I did last year,” Wilson said. “Whatever it takes to help this team win, that’s all I’m about.”
Wilson’s playing days likely won’t end in college. He is projected to go high in the next NFL Draft. Playing at the ultimate level is certainly a goal for Wilson, but he’s putting that on the backburner for now.
“I don’t let it distract me because I know that coach Hargreaves and the rest of the coaches do a great job of keeping me focused,” Wilson said. “If I go out and play hard every day, that stuff will take care of itself.”
Hudson believes Wilson has a bright professional future ahead of him.
“For his future, the sky is the limit,” Hudson said. “C.J. has always been as good as he’s wanted to be. He’s got a high standard for himself and he has a very supportive family, which is a luxury these days. He’s got a lot of people here that care about him. He’s a very humble kid and that’s fun to watch.
“He’s got a coach, Vernon Hargreaves, that is great. C.J. will get to the wall; Vernon is going to push him through it and C.J. knows that and asks for that.”
As he gets set to embark on his final season with the Pirates, Wilson plans to enjoy each moment.
“I do have mixed feeling,” Wilson said. “I’m just going to enjoy the journey, and thank God for my opportunities.”