Healthy Wilson Cornerstone of CMU Defense

Oct. 31, 2014

By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – No man, it’s said, is an island.

Perhaps that’s true. But a cornerback can often feel like he’s on an island, isolated, one-on-one, mano a mano with a speedy wide receiver from the opposing team.

It can be the loneliest and most physically challenging position on the football field, and it can be the most visible on the defensive side of the ball, for better or for worse.

A corner starts most every play running backward, or trying to jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage. Then, he has to turn and run stride for stride with said receiver – who most often is the fastest, or among the fastest, players on the field – and the corner must anticipate the receiver’s every move, stick like glue to him, and, above all else, get to the ball and don’t commit a pass interference penalty.

Everybody in the stadium knows when a corner gets beat because the result is often a touchdown. It’s the ultimate risk-reward position: Make a play, and you’re a hero. Fail, and, well, everybody sees it, not only as it happens, but again and again and again on the highlights.

Jason Wilson knows it all, very well. The Central Michigan senior has been a mainstay at cornerback since moving to defense before his sophomore season.

He made seven starts that year and started all 12 games as a junior in 2013. He missed two games and sat out the better part of a third this year with a hamstring injury, but otherwise, he has been a critical cog on a unit that ranks first in the Mid-American Conference in total defense, pass defense and interceptions.

Wilson and the Chippewas play a Mid-American Conference game at Eastern Michigan on Saturday (1 p.m.). A win makes CMU (5-4, 3-2 MAC) bowl eligible for the seventh time in nine years.

Not only is cornerback a highly visible position, it can also be a personal one. If the ball is frequently coming his way, the message from the opposing team is that it has identified the corner as weak, a point at which to attack.

“As corners you take that personally, being out there on that island,” Wilson said. “You want to stop your guy.”

Case in point. In Saturday’s 20-14 win at Buffalo, Wilson defended the Bulls’ final two plays, both long passes down the sideline. Both passes fell incomplete, thanks mostly to Wilson’s defense.

“I just had to plaster on to my guy, lock on to him and not come out of coverage and try to make a play,” Wilson said.

More often than not, Wilson has made the play. He has six career interceptions, 12 pass breakups and this season has added 2 ½ tackles-for-loss to his stat line. He is tied for sixth on the team with 37 tackles.

Wilson sat out CMU’s games against Ohio and Ball State, the former a dominant win, the latter a heartbreaking three-point loss. In between, he started against Northern Illinois (another dominating win), but was back on the sidelines early in the first quarter nursing his sore hamstring.

“It’s definitely frustrating because it’s something I haven’t done, ever, in my life,” Wilson said of missing playing time. “It was tough just sitting and watching, but then again I had to put my pride aside and become a big cheerleader for the team, help guys out, tell them what I’m seeing out there as I’m watching film throughout the week.

“Even though I wasn’t playing I was still preparing as if I was, to help the guys. I’m glad to be back.”

A hamstring injury can be devastating to a corner if a corner can’t run, he is severely limited, or he can’t play at all.

“That’s the tough thing with hamstring injuries  -- especially with a hamstring because you’ve got to be able to burst,” Wilson said. “I thought I felt good enough to go and I kind of was pushing it and pushing it. I tried to come back for the Northern game and it just wasn’t right.”

His return against Buffalo was a triumphant one, both for him and the Chippewas. CMU surrendered 233 yards passing to Joe Licata, one of the MAC’s top passers, but they intercepted him twice.

And when CMU most needed it, in the fourth quarter, they stopped Licata and the Bulls. And it was Wilson who stood out at crunch time.

“All in all we came out with a win and allowing 14 points is pretty good, but I feel like there’s always things that we can improve on,” he said. “Everybody in general feels that way. We can make more plays, create a few more turnovers. There’s always room for improvement.”

There’s also room for personal growth, and the injury, in a roundabout way, helped Wilson’s.

As a senior, he knows his days of pulling on a CMU uniform are numbered, and he savors the remaining opportunities he has. That three-week stretch showed him what life will be like after the 2014 season.

“Not too many guaranteed games left so it was definitely something I had to put in perspective,” he said. “It really did make me appreciate the game, practices, all this.

“I couldn’t get too down about it. I said to myself a bunch of times, it could be worse. Somebody out here has got it worse so I can’t complain too much.”
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