University of Akron nose guard Cody Grice remembers Michigan sophomore free safety Jarrod Wilson from their days competing in the City Series.
“We have a history together,” Grice said. “Last matchup we had, he beat us. He was a ballhawk and he was fast.”
Grice bulldozed opponents as Firestone’s running back, and Wilson starred at free safety at Buchtel.
“I got in on a few tackles against him,” Wilson said Wednesday during a phone conversation after he’d just finished practice in Ann Arbor.
He won’t get any shots at Grice this time, but he will get plenty of playing time against the Zips (1-1), who also recruited him, when the two teams play at Michigan Stadium beginning at noon Saturday.
Wilson didn’t come to the job as the clear-cut starter. According to reports, he won the job in spring football before senior cornerback Courtney Avery moved to free safety and apparently nudged his way into the position. But preseason arthroscopic knee surgery claimed the first two games of Avery’s senior season. Avery has been getting more work in practice, so it’s conceivable that he could get more playing time against the Zips.
The 6-foot-3 Wilson possesses a size advantage on Avery, who stands 5-foot-11, but experience counts for much in college football.
By accounts, Wilson performed adequately in two games versus Central Michigan and Notre Dame, getting nine tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
But playing free safety for Michigan (2-0) is vastly different than playing the equivalent of center field for Buchtel.
“I have a lot more responsibilities,” Wilson said.
“Now I have to make a lot of different checks, including for defensive linemen. I have to come down to get slot [receivers]. I have to blitz a lot, so it’s diverse compared to high school.”
The primary challenge that awaits him is keeping the starting slot as the season goes on. He’s learned that the Michigan experience is vastly different from anything he experienced in high school when it was easier for a player who had a nose for the ball and returned five interceptions for touchdowns during his junior year — as he did — to stand out.
“It was surprising,” he said of the talent on the UM roster. “I was like ‘everybody is as good as I am’ especially coming from inner-city Akron where a few guys show up, but not really a lot of people.
“Coming here and playing with guys like that, I think it just increases my level of play. I just step my play up in that situation.”
If he continues his current trajectory, he certainly stands a chance of becoming one of the players from Buchtel who reach the next level.
Wide receiver Corey Smith, who is now at Ohio State, could eventually if he cracks the lineup, as can Shaquille Riddick, a defensive end at Gardner-Webb and Wilson’s cousin. Riddick has matured into a 6-foot-7 frame and is making coaches take note of him.
“I think he’s becoming himself now. In high school, it always had his attention, but he had a little small frame and he went to college and gained a lot of weight and now he’s doing big things,” Wilson said of Riddick.
Wilson also knows that he has to remain focused at Michigan if he is to get a shot eventually at playing at the pro level. What does he have to do to continue to progress?
“I think the same things I’ve been doing since I’ve been playing football,” he said, “which is never take anything for granted, stay humble and beat out the next man.”
That march continues Saturday against his hometown team, a situation that some might consider awkward.
“It’s not really that weird because I only know a few people on the team. If I knew a lot of people on the team, playing against them would be a little different,” he said.
Quarterbacks Kyle Pohl (ankle); Nick Hirschman (knee) and right guard Henry Orelus (ankle) are all listed as day-to-day.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.