(All photos courtesy of ECU Media
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.
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.
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.
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
What’s it going to be like without “Lightning” (Zack Slate) on the other side
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.