FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Today’s Take: A call to arms
- Trask: Nothing like the new norm
- Parental Perspective: Greenard comes full circle
- Parental Perspective: From fan, to walk-on, to starter
- At Florida, it’s more than football, it’s family
- Dexter’s improbable path to football stardom
As a freshman in 2017, cornerback Marco Wilson led the Gators with 10 pass breakups, the most by a UF freshman since 2013. He was named to the Coaches’ All-SEC team and was regarded as the next great Gators cornerback.
However, his team went just 4-7, and Jim McElwain and his staff were fired. So, he entered the 2018 season motivated to help his team rise back to the ranks of the nation’s elite and excited for what the future might hold under the new staff, his father, Chad Wilson, said.
Then, just like that, it was all over. On the opening possession of the second game of the season against Kentucky, Wilson tore his left ACL and missed the rest of the season. It was extremely hard for him to watch his team go 10-3 and win a New Year’s Six bowl from the sidelines given the excitement and expectations he had for the season, Chad said.
Some players coming off of a major season-ending injury play a little apprehensive in their first few games back. They worry so much about not injuring themselves again that it affects their performance. That was definitely not the case with Wilson, who also tore his right ACL in his junior year of high school, Chad said.
“Marco may be a lot of things, but tentative and apprehensive is not one of them,” he said.
“Anytime you’ve got a game you love like football that’s taken away from you for a whole season, then you’re going to be hungry to come back, and he was definitely that.”
Wilson entered the 2019 season with a lot of outside hype. He was one of the best corners in the SEC as a freshman, and his knee was 100 percent healthy by the time fall camp rolled around. So, he should’ve just picked up where he left off, right?
Of course, it’s not that simple, and Gators fans aren’t known for always being rational, compassionate and forgiving.
In the season-opener against Miami, Wilson committed a pass-interference penalty on a desperation fourth-and-34 play that gave the Hurricanes new life. Fortunately, the Gators wound up getting the stop and the win anyway.
Three weeks later, Wilson gave a 26-yard touchdown and several third-down conversions against Kentucky. He took a lot of heat from fans on social media over the ensuing few days, with some calling it the worst game of his career and others wanting to know what was wrong with him.
Chad said Marco and Quincy (Marco’s older brother who plays for the Indianapolis Colts) both understand the importance of not paying attention to criticism. The people making negative comments likely don’t understand everything that goes into being a good cornerback. They just see a touchdown scored and blame the closest guy to him.
“They know that those opinions don’t really matter,” Mr. Wilson said of the arm-chair quarterbacks on message boards and social media. “They’re made by people who don’t understand what it is that it requires to play that position. Most of them don’t understand what’s going on anyway, and fans tend to have huge emotional mood swings throughout a game. One minute, a guy’s terrible; the next minute, the guy’s a beast.
“I’ve seen everyone that’s worth anything get criticized. I’ve seen tweets that say LeBron [James] sucks. So, where do you go from there? If he sucks, who’s good playing any sport anywhere? No one.”
Chad said he didn’t see a lot of negativity about Marco on his Twitter timeline, but he’s seen it happen with players from other teams. A player will make a mistake or give up a big play, and the fans will let him have it on social media.
“When someone catches a ball, ‘Oh my God, a receiver who’s paid to catch balls or is on scholarship to catch balls catches a ball, and the guy covering him sucks.’ I don’t revel in that kind of stuff because, once again, those are opinions that don’t matter. They have no effect on the outcome on the football field.”
All of the plays that fans were irate about against Kentucky were fluky, Chad said. On the touchdown, Wildcats' receiver Ahmad Wagner, who’s 6-foot-5, juggled the ball, and replays seemed to show that the ball hit the ground before Wagner gained control. Still, after review, the play was upheld. On a fade pass later in the game, a Wildcats receiver grabbed Wilson’s facemask and kept him from seeing the ball. No flag was thrown. Wilson was flagged for a very questionable pass-interference call on UK’s next-to-last drive that ended with a missed field goal that would’ve given the Wildcats the lead.
“So, those are three plays that people were judging him off of and making these comments about,” Chad said. “Whatever. It’s bad game; you’ll have it. People will catch balls when you play cornerback, and you just move on, on to the next week.”
Wilson followed his dad’s advice perfectly and turned in arguably the best game of his career the following week against Tennessee. He picked up his first career interception and delivered a bone-jarring hit that led to an interception by Amari Burney.
“Definitely always room to improve, and I'm not at my best right now,” Marco Wilson said after the game. “I wouldn't want to be at my best at the beginning of the season. I want to see myself grow towards the end of the season. I'll be a lot better than I am right now. Last week was a tough challenge, but you got to put stuff like that behind you and focus on what's next."
After a practice the following week, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said it was “his best game since I’ve had him.” To be fair, it was only his fifth full game coaching Wilson, but it’s still high praise coming from a coach that exactly doesn’t toss out compliments like candy.
“He’s a guy that works hard in practice,” Grantham said. “He’s a really good player that has instincts, that has cover ability, and things are going to happen sometimes, and you just have to keep playing. He’s done that.”
Chad agreed with Grantham that Marco played well against the Volunteers, but he doesn’t view that game as a turning point or a lunching pad for the rest of the season like some do. The term “turning point” implies that there was something bad that happened at the beginning of the season, and Chad doesn’t think Marco played as poorly as some fans thought he did.
Whatever you want to call it, the No. 10 Gators could use another performance like that one when the No. 7 Auburn Tigers visit the Swamp on Saturday.
For the first time since the early minutes of the UT Martin game, UF’s secondary will be at full strength this weekend with the return of CJ Henderson from an ankle sprain. While the three freshmen corners – Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough – played well in Henderson’s absence, Chad said getting Henderson, considered one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, back will be a boost for the entire defense.
“That’s the guy [Marco] came in with, he played with as freshmen, your roommate,” he said. “You feel more energized having that guy out there.
“When you lose a key player and he comes back, it just picks up the energy level of everyone, Marco included.”
Marco Wilson’s had to overcome a lot in his two and a half seasons at Florida. Whether it was the disappointment of a 4-7 season, the uncertainty that comes with a new coaching staff, the frustration of tearing an ACL for the second time in four years or being criticized by his own fans, adversity has found him at every stop of the way.
Now, he appears to be on a rise back to the top.