Football

Cat-like instincts: Andrew Wilson brings steady presence to middle of up-and-down Missouri defense

Courtesy of Missouri Media Relations

Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson is a leader of the Tigers defense. He paced the team with 98 tackles a year ago and is third with 63 in 2012.

Though the Missouri defense has been streaky all season, consistency hasn’t been a problem for linebacker Andrew Wilson.

The redshirt junior is third on the team with 63 tackles and has forced four fumbles, tied for the team lead and sixth in the nation. In Missouri’s quadruple-overtime 51-48 win over Tennessee last week, Wilson tallied eight tackles, five of which were solo. He also batted down a pass on a two-point conversion attempt to force the decisive final overtime.

Wilson and the Missouri defense, ranked 52nd in scoring defense allowing 25.1 points per game, take on Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 Big East) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. Both the Tigers (5-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) and the Orange need one win to become bowl eligible.

Wilson had a breakout year as a sophomore in 2011. He was named to the All-Big 12 second team and Independence Bowl Defensive MVP in a win against North Carolina.

“I did feel like I contributed in a big way and the guys knew that I was someone who could be counted on,” Wilson said.

He also said that when it is his time to make a play he reacts with his instincts and fundamentals.

Those elements helped Wilson lead the team with 98 tackles last season. He did most of his damage when he moved to middle linebacker after teammate Will Ebner was sidelined with a concussion in the first game of the season.

Ebner’s return has caused Wilson to move back to the outside, but with more than 60 tackles through 10 games, he is displaying his versatility to play at any position.

Dave Steckel, Missouri defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, said Wilson possesses great instincts and has a “nose for the football” because of his ability to instantly appear wherever it goes.

“Coach is always preaching, ‘Run to the ball,’ so I’m always running to the ball like all our other players do, and I just end up being in the right spots,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s defensive pressure and instincts run in the family. His father, Jay, also played linebacker for Missouri from 1980-83 and left as the school’s all-time leading tackler.

“He always wanted me to go here, but he never pressured me,” Wilson said. “I know he was real happy when it worked out for me to come here though. He’s a huge part of any success I have; I learned almost everything about football from him.”

Wilson acknowledges his father as one of the driving forces of his success, but Jay says his playing style differs from that of his son, reiterating that Andrew is in a league all his own when it comes to tackling.

“The biggest difference in our games is that I was probably pulling players down while, as you can see, he’s really jacking them up,” Jay said.

Wilson’s hard-hitting nature has earned him the “Team Hammer Award” two years in a row. Coaches vote on it and give it to the player who made the biggest hits throughout the season. With a defensive roster that includes fellow linebackers Zaviar Gooden and Donovan Bonner, that’s no easy feat.

Head coach Gary Pinkel credits Wilson’s defensive prowess to his success and says he is as good as anyone when it comes to tackling. He also said he knows he is always going to get the maximum effort at every snap.

Wilson stated that part of his inspiration for his playing style is derived from Ebner. It works well for him when they can play off each other during games.

“(Ebner) said you’ve got to be mean out there and really not like the people you’re playing against,” Wilson said.

Wilson says that is just an on-field persona. The game’s intensity and the need to make stops on defense is fuel for his passionate play.

Ebner said that playing alongside Wilson is like having an extra appendage, someone he’s able to trust, especially when they’re in need of a big defensive play.

“Andrew is about as dependable as you can get, he is everywhere he needs to be on every snap,” Ebner said. “He knows what his job is and he gets it done. He’s really determined and if something bad happens, he doesn’t get rattled.”

With their move to the SEC this season, the Tigers have had no time for nerves; they’ve had to step up to the learning curve quick to succeed in this conference.

“It’s a whole different league, whole different group of teams and players; we’re not used to these offenses,” Wilson said. “We’ve been working on them, but we still have to get better.”

Wilson said the Tigers’ defense is a cohesive group. It’s that bond that allows the defensive players to communicate so well during games.

He reiterates that there are 10 other guys on the defensive side of the ball, and he wouldn’t have the opportunity to make plays without their contributions.

“We’ve got a lot of great players on our defense, and I’m just one of them,” Wilson said. “I play hard and try to be in the right spots.”

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