CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Marvin Wilson is a big man with big shoes to fill.
A 6-foot-5, 311-pound defensive tackle, Wilson has spent the last two years as one of Florida State’s most promising young defenders – and he’s got 52 career tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2018 All-ACC honorable mention honors to prove it.
At the center of his early production, Wilson said, was the example set by former teammates Brian Burns and Demarcus Christmas, two stalwart Florida State defensive linemen who were selected in the NFL draft a few months ago.
“The best thing Brian Burns taught me how to do was how to work,” Wilson said at last week’s ACC Football Kickoff. “…He and Demarcus Christmas, those were the leaders I leaned on.”
With Burns and Christmas now gearing up for their first professional training camps, Wilson is preparing to take everything he learned from their examples and pay it forward to Florida State’s next wave of defensive linemen.
Because while the talented Wilson and a handful of other veterans will be at the center of FSU’s line, coach Odell Haggins’ group likely won’t reach its full potential unless a host of first- and second-year players take the same steps forward that Wilson did at their age.
That group includes tackles Robert Cooper, Tru Thompson and Malcolm Ray, and ends Dennis Briggs Jr., Malcolm Lamar, Jamarcus Chatman, Derrick McLendon II, Curtis Fann Jr., and Quashon Fuller, among others.
“You’ve got to set the standard now for the young guys,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to be ‘that guy.’
“Last year, I had two guys in front of me that were ‘those guys.’ Now I’ve got to be ‘that guy’ for them.”
To Wilson, that means leading by example. But it also means being available to answer questions on the practice fields, help younger players understand what they’re seeing in the film room, and otherwise do whatever it takes to make sure that his cohorts up front are successful both on and off the field.
Same as Burns and Christmas did for him.
“I would stop in the middle of practice, and be like, ‘I’m having trouble with this, how do you do it?’ They would break it down for me to a tee.”
Then again, given the strides he’s seen from some of that younger crop, Wilson might not be quite as busy as his predecessors.
Wilson said that Lamar and Chatman are “working their butts off,” with regular visits to Haggins’ office and steady phone calls to both him and fellow veteran Cory Durden in search of extra reps on the practice fields.
And he praised the way that his roommate, sophomore Robert Cooper, has transformed his body – from nearly 380 pounds as a recruit to 346 as he enters his second season in Tallahassee.
“I’ve seen immense development,” Wilson said. “Most freshmen, when they have trouble coming in, it’s not even the physical part. It’s just the mental aspect of the game. Technique, different things like that. …
“They’re ready now. More than ready. They’re primed for this.”
Wilson has made sure of that. And he’s extended his guiding hand outside of his own position’s meeting room.
During a recent summer day, on what was designated as an optional “off day” in FSU’s offseason workout program, Taggart looked outside his office and saw Wilson leading a group of Seminoles running the steps inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
Taggart wasn’t surprised to see Wilson. Nor was he surprised to see Wilson’s fellow defensive linemen following his lead.
But when he looked a little closer, and noticed that the group also included a handful of offensive linemen and defensive backs? That made the head coach do a double-take.
“That’s something I haven’t seen before,” Taggart said. “But he’s taking pride in that, and it says a lot to me when it’s not just the defensive line doing it. You see the offensive linemen over there, too. And the defensive backs.
“To me, that’s a young man that’s got his hands on this entire football team. And those guys appreciate that.”
Wilson, of course, plans to be far more than just a mentor when the Seminoles kick off against Boise State next month.
With Christmas gone, the Seminoles will need a reliable force to hold down the line of scrimmage, stuff opposing run games and draw double-teams that will allow the edge rushers like Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh to get after the passer.
A few sacks and tackles for loss from the interior of the line wouldn’t hurt either.
Wilson’s got the physical aspects of his job under control. So he’s focused his efforts on the mental side the game.
“Learning how to read formations,” Wilson said, “learning how to look at where the (running) back is, check out where the star receiver is, different things like that. How the alignment is going to slide to me.
“Breaking the game down from a big-time player’s perspective, so when I am out there on the field I can think and react a lot faster on the field than I used to.”