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April 5, 2012
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When he trots onto Florida Field Saturday, James Wilson will be experiencing a first.
That's a fact that may be tough to grasp. After all, this is a 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive guard who was a freshman for the Gators in 2007 after blocking for Tim Tebow at Ponte Vedra (Fla.) Nease High Shcool. Entering a sixth season in Orange and Blue, there shouldn't be any more firsts or new accomplishments; yet Wilson's current resume is filled with them.
Saturday will be the first time he has ever been healthy enough to play in the Orange and Blue Debut.
"I went to Coach (Will) Muschamp and told him, 'Hey Coach, I made it through my first spring.' He was all happy. It was kind of a big deal," Wilson said.
In the weeks leading up to the Gator Bowl, Wilson became a legitimate story for the first time in his career - if you don't include injuries. He became a novelty sidebar: The five-star prospect who had started just five games in five years at Florida. While stories were being written about his career winding down, Wilson's mind was looking for ways to stay.
"I just wasn't satisfied with my career," he said. "I knew I could do better, and I didn't want to go out like that."
[ Watch: Wilson blocks for Tebow at Nease High ]
He approached coaches about asking for a sixth year of eligibility, and they listened.
Around the time of the Gator Bowl, he was told the Southeastern Conference had granted his request. The NCAA's decision came later. Wilson isn't sure how he would have handled it if he would have somehow been told no. He had plans to stay in Gainesville regardless.
When the first spring depth charts came out, Wilson was listed on top at left guard, an early victory for a guy who once cruised campus in a Jazzy scooter after breaking both of his feet and once began his days calling a trainer to get him out of bed and to the stadium to stretch his knees out.
"It's good to see him back out there," sophomore offensive tackle Chaz Green said. "He's capitalizing on it."
"I still think I got everything it takes," Wilson said. "I'm glad to work with this O-line. I've been here forever and we've built a lot of chemistry. I love my boys and I'm just having fun."
With fellow senior Sam Robey and early enrollee Jessamen Dunker standing as the challengers to take reps away from him, Wilson has reassured coaches that naming him the starter was the right choice to this point. Muschamp has named Wilson as a guy who has truly separated himself from competition this spring.
The title isn't something he expected. When a person has been through as much as Wilson has, he learns to become stingy with comfort.
"I've learned through all this time that nothing is guaranteed," Wilson said. "I've just got to go in and show what I need to do."
Wilson still has the same dreams he did when he was the best offensive guard prospect in the country coming out of high school. Since then, he's seen plenty of his former classmates such as Ahmad Black, Joe Haden and the Pouncey twins reach the National Football League.
"[An NFL chance] was definitely huge," Wilson said. "That's the ultimate goal for all of us, but I've just got to keep going."
Before that can happen, there have to be plenty more firsts. After Saturday's game, his next goal is fairly simple.
"I got to make it through my first (fall) camp now," Wilson said.
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