After bursting onto the scene as a freshman, it’s safe to say Marco Wilson’s collegiate career has taken some unexpected turns.
Following a devastating injury in his sophomore campaign, Wilson returned to his starting cornerback spot in 2019 – only for that, too, to change.
Wilson moved to the nickel spot midway through last season, and the results were more than encouraging. The former American Heritage standout sealed Florida’s win over Missouri with a critical interception – one of his three picks on the season – and, perhaps most importantly, paved the way for freshman Kaiir Elam to slide into the vacated spot.
At the time, it was hard initially for Wilson to fully embrace the role change, considering he’s just one of four true freshmen in program history to start at cornerback from day one; now, however, as one of the team’s voices in the locker room, Wilson is ready to lead in whichever way possible.
And that starts with getting the underclassmen as ready as he was.
“Kaiir is coming along great. I know he’s going to be a great player, and we’ve just been getting extra work during the offseason, kind of what me and CJ (Henderson) used to do together to make each other better,” Wilson said. “I’ve also been bringing all the other guys along, so it’s not just me and Kaiir. I’m trying to get everybody to be on the same level. A high level.”
Although the team had several future NFL players on the roster, the leadership from the upperclassmen was missing when he arrived on campus, said Wilson. Considering he did ascend quickly up the depth chart, it makes sense, but as a redshirt junior Wilson is working to ensure he’s not the reason it continues past 2020.
“My freshman year when I got here, it wasn’t as much leadership that there is now. I think that’s a big deal. You can’t always just have coaches trying to lead the guys, because you’re not on the field with the coaches, you’re on the field with your teammates,” Wilson said. “Whatever you’re doing, whatever the leaders are doing, the team is going to follow. It can’t be all about the coaches.”
Meanwhile, Wilson’s early embrace of Elam already seems to be paying off with the Gators set to open spring practice Monday, continuing the running trend of underclassmen leaving a sizable initial impression. Yet when it comes to leading by example, Wilson is living proof that age shouldn’t be a factor.
“It’s usually the older guys, but there are definitely some guys like Kaiir that are looked at as a leader,” he said. “Anyone that does the right things on and off the field, if you just speak up and voice your opinion, people are going to listen, because we all respect each other.”
The Gators aren’t vocalizing their opinions, however when it comes to the College Football Playoff. If anything, that’s more of an unspoken goal, one determined by dedication to developing rather than by speaking it into existence. Unless someone isn’t self-motivated to that point, that is.
“We don’t really speak about it. It’s just a quiet understanding. Every time we go to workouts, we all know that we have a common goal that we want to reach. If someone’s not living to that standard we speak up about it because we want everybody to be up here so we can achieve that,” Wilson said. “Really (the expectation is) just outwork everybody else and be the hardest working team on the field no matter what. Be mentally strong and prepared whenever we go out on the field.”
Now the wise veteran in the secondary, and with plenty of in-game experience at nickelback under him, Wilson heads into spring practice as confident and mentally tough as ever – the latter of which Wilson can certify as a key to success for anyone, especially an underclassmen looking to make a name for themselves.
“As a freshman, I didn’t realize how much mental the game was. I was really just out there off my own athletic ability and just playing and listening to what coach was saying,” Wilson said. “As an older guy now, I know how much more you need to prepare for a game mentally. It’s really more mental than physical, that’s something I didn’t realize as a freshman.”