UF defensive back Wilson coming into season with a chip on his shoulder
Marco Wilson is feeling slighted, and disrespected. But he’s OK with that. Because those emotions add up to one thing for the Florida defensive back.
"It puts a huge chip on my shoulder," said the redshirt junior from Fort Lauderdale. "I actually prefer it that way. I don’t want to be comfortable and relaxed."
The chip on Wilson's shoulder was placed there this summer by the Jim Thorpe Award, which left Wilson off its Watch List for the best DB in college football heading into the 2020 season. There are 49 players from around the nation on the list, including UF sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam, but Wilson's name is conspicuously missing.
It's hard to fathom — or justify.
Wilson has been considered one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC the past three seasons.
In 2017, he started all 11 games, becoming only the fourth true freshman in UF history to start the opening game at cornerback. Heading into his sophomore season, he was considered by many to be one the Gators' best defensive players, but his season ended in the second game with a torn ACL sustained against Kentucky.
He came back strong last season, excelling at both cornerback and the star (nickel) position in the secondary. He considered declaring for the NFL draft, where some were projecting he would be a second-round pick. When he announced in January he was returning in 2020, it was big news for the Gators.
But the members of the Thorpe Award selection committee must have missed it and assumed Wilson had moved on to pro football. Maybe that's why he's not on the award's watch list.
Whatever. It doesn't bother Wilson. It lights a fire in him.
"I don't want to be the top guy everybody’s talking about," he said. "It just makes me want to keep grinding, it just makes me go harder. I looked at that list, and some of the names I saw — and I respect everybody that’s on there — I know a lot of people on there aren’t on my level of play.
"But you just got to take it for what it is. At the end of the day, I’m not here for awards. I’m here to play with my team and win games. So, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just trying to level up my game and just get to the next level, and just dominate in anything I do."
Wilson's natural position is cornerback, but he showed last season that he has the special skill set (and size and strength) to also excel at the star spot closer to the line of scrimmage. He also could play safety, if needed.
The Thorpe Award may not appreciate his value, but UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham certainly does.
"He's probably the most versatile player I've had from the standpoint of being able to play the corner/star position and that really creates value for our team, for himself," Grantham said. "He's an excellent star. When you talk about a guy that can be instinctive, that guy can cover you know he's got physicality.
"I've been fortunate to have some good players at corner. I would say he's probably the most versatile guy that I've had from a standpoint of you can match him up on a premier guy, whether he's in the slot or outside, and those are the kind of things we can do with him and we'll work those in.”
Wilson likely projects to be a cornerback at the next level. But he's not thinking about the NFL right now. He's focused on elevating his overall game and helping the Gators win games. And if that means playing multiple positions, he'd gladly do it, he said.
"I'm just ready to attack the year, perform at a high level every week," he said. "I’m just ready to play where my team needs me. Last year they needed me at star, so I played star. Wherever the team needs me, that's where I am going to be."
When his UF career is over, he knows where he'd like to be — listed alongside the other great defensive backs in school history.
That's the only watch list he seems to care about.
"I think about that every time I go out there at practice," Wilson said. "I know there are a lot of great guys that came here. When I leave here, I want to be one of those guys that is talked about. So, I just want to make sure I do things necessary so I get talked about when I’m gone."
Gators on TV: The Gators will open the season on ESPN at Ole Miss with a noon kickoff Sept. 26.
The Oct. 3 home opener will also kick off at noon on ESPN, as Florida welcomes South Carolina to The Swamp.
On Oct. 17, the Gators host LSU on ESPN or ESPN2 with a 3:30 p.m. kick, and will face Georgia Nov. 7 in Jacksonville with a 3:30 p.m. start on CBS.