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Bonesville One-on-One:
In Step with C.J. Wilson
 

Team’s most highly-regarded NFL prospect shares
thoughts on team, season, his future

Thursday, July 30, 2009
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By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer

 


(All photos courtesy of ECU Media Relations)

On a team full of talent, East Carolina defensive end C.J. Wilson garners the most attention. A four-year starter, three-time All-Conference USA selection, and devastating pass rusher, the proud son of Belhaven, NC, is primed for his final campaign in the Purple & Gold.

Wilson, C-USA's preseason defensive player of the year, took the time recently to sit down with Bonesville for a one-on-one Q & A in which he made no bones about his thoughts about the 2009 edition of the Pirates, their goals, and his future. At times light and other times quite candid, one thing for sure is that Wilson is honest and dedicated to this football program.

Bonesville: You have been a starter since your freshman year, you are a leader on the team, a three-time All-Conference selection, won a C-USA Championship, have been to three-straight bowl games, are considered one of the top defensive ends in the country... what do you have left to prove heading into your Senior season?

C.J. Wilson: We have high expectations this year, the coaches and the players. We want to go to the next level… we want to go to a BCS bowl. This is the goal along with being back-to-back C-USA Championships.

B: You hear that defense wins championships and ECU’s defense certainly seemed to prove that last year in beating Tulsa in the C-USA Championship game. It seems the talk around the program in the off-season and heading towards the fall is again about the Pirates' stellar defense. When you look around at the guys who line up beside and behind you, what are you thoughts on the strengths, the weaknesses and the question marks for this defense?

CJ: It all starts with coaching. We have such a great coaching staff here that puts in the hard work every day with us. I look at my teammates, this year, looking at every position, and I have to say, we are pretty set in every position. I remember a couple of years ago, when we went up to West Virginia, Coach (Skip) Holtz told us that championship teams don’t have weaknesses… not on offense, defense or special teams. So, I would say that this defense doesn’t really have a weakness. What we have is experience, depth and talent on this defense.

B: This defense over the past few seasons has taken on a reputation as being very physical. Where do you think that attitude comes from?

CJ: It all starts with our coaches and the attitudes they bring to the program. Starting with Coach Hud (Greg Hudson) and Coach Rock (Roggeman) – you know how he is – and Coach (Vernon) Hargreaves, too, this defense is a reflection of their attitudes. We are the kind of team that, on Wednesdays during the season, three days before the game we are doing tackling drills out there, so that is why we are so physical. We emphasize working hard and we all know we are a hard-working team in practice. They did a great job of instilling that mentality here and now the young guys come in and we keep it going in them… it is rolling now.

B: It has probably been since the ’70's that an ECU defensive line has had the amount of talent and respect that this unit has had since your time here. Can you look around at the guys who play beside you and give me your thoughts on some of them?

CJ: I came in with two great guys, Jay Ross and Scotty Robinson in 2005 and then, of course, Linval Joseph came in later. I would say that Jay Ross it the hardest working guy on the entire defense… period. He comes to work every day and he just doesn’t have a bad day. Linval Joseph is one of the strongest guys I have ever seen in my entire life and he is a hard worker too. You can depend on Jay and Linval. Scotty has had some setbacks with injuries but he is healthy now and is a hard worker too. I would say we have a great defensive line in the four of us. Also, I cannot forget Josh Smith who transferred here from Western Carolina University. He is a hard, hard worker with a great attitude and he will be helping out a lot again this year like he did last year. Then there is Antonio Allison – he is a young guy who is ready to go physically now after a redshirt year with Coach Golden. Some other young guys like Maurice Mercer too will be great here.

B: What’s it going to be like without “Lightning” (Zack Slate) on the other side this season?

CJ: Ohhh man…  it is really going to be a lot different this season without Zack over there on the other side. You knew you could count on him to go hard and fast every play. What a great guy and friend, too. His attitude, commitment and passion, what he brought to this team, you really cannot replace that. Having said that, Scotty is a very talented guy who is bigger and can hold down that side. He has big shoes to fill, but he will. He may not be “Lightning” but he can hold his own and will make a name for himself this season. I have as much trust in Scotty as I did in Slate and I know he will hold that side down.

B: So, will we be hearing a new nickname this season for you?

CJ: You can’t have “Thunder” without the “Lightning” so I am thinking, yeah, probably there will be a new nickname. We’ll have to see how things go this season. Maybe there will be something new.

B: Talk about your relationship with Coach Vernon Hargreaves and the role he’s played in your development. What expectations does he have for you now that you are one of the old veterans?

CJ: I was recruited by Coach Donnie Thompson but when Coach Hargreaves came in he did a great job with me. He is a great coach. He has become more of a father figure for me. He is always looking out for each of us. It isn’t just what he has taught me about football, but more about life in general. I am so glad he came in to the program. He is a great guy who has taught me so much since he came in. As far as his expectations for me this season, I promise you that his expectations for me are higher than my own for myself. He sees a lot in me and is working to bring it all out of me. I am thankful to be one of his students.

B: If you could, point to one or two players on this team that when you watch them play, you sit back and say, “Man, that is one great football player.”

CJ: The one guy who had my attention and commanded my respect since the day I got in here is Van Eskridge. It’s no surprise at all that he is getting national attention. He is a great, great player. Every time you look back and there is a tackle, he is going to be there… every time. I have a lot of respect for Van. We have a great relationship, I consider him a great friend, leader and football player. He commands respect on the football field and I have great respect for him.

B: Last season could have been an amazing one had it not been for an amazing number of serious injuries. Does this team have the same potential that the 2008 team had?

CJ: More… we have more potential this year than we did last year. We have a great team this year. We are closer as a family with much more maturity and experience to go with a lot of talent. If we can avoid the injuries… we will be better than we were last year, I can promise you that.

B: Are you seeing the attitude from each player on this team that they are ready for this season, eager for the possibilities and focused? Simply put, does the team share your opinion that the Pirates have a great deal to prove this season?

CJ: When I look at my teammates now, I see a bunch of mature guys who are very eager, focused and very passionate about the upcoming season. I know we're ready and we're doing what it takes to be amongst the top teams in the country..

B: What would you say is the biggest key to the season going like you think it will this year?

CJ: We are a great team… our experience and talent is great. All teams have talent, but the experience is huge for us along with leadership. Beyond staying healthy, the key will be how that experience translates into execution on game day.

B: Pretend that it is opening day for the season and Appalachian State is in town. The game has gotten under way, everyone is settled in to the pace of the game. When you look around, what indicators will you be looking at to validate this team’s abilities?

CJ: For me, it will be way before game day. It is all about who is ready and I will be looking at everyone on Thursday, Friday, and in the locker room before the game. When you have experience, you just get a feeling in looking at the way the guys go through a routine, what they talk about, how they hold their faces… you just know and that is how I will know. It is that experience that I was talking about earlier You will know right away if the guys are in tune, focused and ready. We know that if we go out on that field and take care of business, we are talented and we will have success. Are they focused and staying away from distractions off the field? That is a big indicator.

B: Speaking of distractions… When you came into the program, you had a lot of work to do to put yourself in position to have the career you have had. And you did that work and sacrificed. As a veteran leader, thinking in terms of the program, is it frustrating to you when guys who are important to this program are spinning out of control and not putting the team first?

CJ: Yes… right away… yes, that is very, very frustrating. You know, you get what you put into things and when you got guys going out there half-doing things, going out and getting into trouble … that really hurts all of us. We are one heartbeat, one family… you know, “Together we stand, divided we fall…” these things really mean something to most of us. So, yes, it is very frustrating to all of us and the coaches (when) a guy goes out there and really is irresponsible, because if one guys messes up, the whole team is messed up – that is what makes football the best sport, it is a true team effort. If one guy steps out of line, we all feel the pain. It is very frustrating, trust me.

B: On an individual level, your name is getting a lot of attention this year – NFL scouting, All-America lists, position award lists, etc. Does that kind of recognition give you any additional motivation going into the season and how do you handle that attention?

CJ: All the coaches from Coach Hargreaves to Coach Rock and Coach Hud to Coach Holtz, all of them tell me the same thing: Do what you have been doing all along. It is what has got you here. Coach Holtz likes to say that its like climbing a mountain. You have to look at what’s right in front of you at the moment – where your hand and foot are going next. If you look to the top of the mountain, that is when you slip and fall. Down deep, I am sure that the attention is motivating for me, but I try not to get to caught up in thinking about that stuff right now beyond knowing that all the hard work is recognized. I just keep doing what I have done since I got here. The Good Lord will take care of things when it is time.

B: Still, you are being touted as being among the top echelon defensive ends and you name is being bandied about in many NFL Draft speculations heading into this season. Is the NFL a dream you have always had? Now that it is within reach, has it changed anything for you and your approach to football?

CJ: Well yes, it was always my dream to play professional ball and now that it is in reach, it’s making me work even harder on and off the field and taking a lot of coaching.

B: Think back to when you chose ECU as a rising freshman. Did you ever dream things would turn out like they have for you in your career?

CJ: Well I never thought I'd accomplish all the things I have so far, but I always felt deep down that if I was given the opportunity, I would make the best of it, so I thank God for that.

B: How has your relationship with Coach Holtz, Coach Hud evolved over the years?

CJ: When I first got here as a young guy, like all others, it was great to know that they respected my athleticism – the way I played football. Then, they had respect for me as a player, but now it is mostly about respect as a person. They treat me like a man and respect me. To know I have earned their respect as a person is the most important thing to me. Football comes and goes, what counts in life is really what happens off the football field and to have their respect as a man means everything to me. I respect them for giving me the chance that they did in football and for being the men that they have been in my life.

B: Describe to me how you feel on game day in Greenville. What are your thoughts about ECU's fans and the football-first attitude?

CJ: On games days, I’m very nervous and jacked at the same time. I know that you can always count on the fans here to get you pumped because they are always rowdy.

B: When you need to decompress... get away from things... what do you do?

CJ: When I’m really stressed with everything, I usually play the piano, it relaxes me.

B: When your time at ECU is all said and done, what do you hope will be your legacy in the Pirate program?

CJ: I want to be remembered as one of the greatest guys off and on the field. You want to be remembered and I am no different. I would like to be thought of as a guy who did everything right while I was here and in the process became a very good football player.

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08/30/2009 02:28:30 AM

 
 

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