METAIRIE, La. — It’s not that you can call Martez Wilson prophetic.
More like a dreamer, one who saw a future and found a way to make it happen.
Nearly a decade ago, in a middle school classroom in Illinois, a young Wilson meandering through a life in the projects of Chicago had a dream.
“My teachers used to tell you write down what you want to be five or 10 years from now,” Wilson said. “I said, 'I’m going to be in the NFL.' ”
He added, “And I’m in the NFL.”
Indeed, he is.
And that was no more evident than on Oct. 7, when he nearly helped San Diego along on a potential game-tying drive to driving a stake in the Chargers’ hopes. He did so by helping to lift the New Orleans Saints to a 31-24 win with a clutch strip-sack and fumble recovery in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.
“Martez is a pass rusher,” interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. “That’s why he’s here.”
Wilson has only three tackles this season, but his biggest one came in the San Diego game. He also has five special teams tackles and one blocked punt.
It was a make-up play to end all make-up plays. Seven plays earlier, the Chargers faced a nearly hopeless second-and-37 at their own 28. Philip Rivers threw an incomplete pass setting San Diego up for third-and-long.
But Wilson was called for an illegal use of hands penalty, negating the incomplete pass and giving San Diego a fresh set of downs. The Chargers eventually moved to the Saints’ 33 with 19 seconds to play, needing a touchdown to tie the game.
On third-and-10, though, Wilson saw that San Diego left tackle Jared Gaither was limping. While he didn’t know that Gaither had a groin injury, he knew that the offensive lineman could be had.
“From my point of view, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to beat him with speed now. He’s tired. We’re all tired,’ ” Wilson said. “I just used speed. It worked out for the best but hey, that’s football.”
It was a veteran move to get to Rivers, strip him of the football and pounce on the loose ball.
“What he did on both those plays is he basically edge rushed and dipped his shoulder knowing that the offensive lineman couldn’t defend it and then he turned the corner,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Now that’s some ability and some in-flight adjusting in the game knowing that. He smelled blood in the water and he took advantage of it. That was huge.”
Wilson won’t apologize for his aggressive play, saying that not only is it in his genes, but it’s his payoff from coming from very little.
“Rough,” Wilson said of where he grew up. “Times in high heat. Now I’m able to support my family, helping them out. They don’t ever have to worry about that no more. It’s a long way for me. I look on that and just use that as motivation.”
Wilson says you can’t underestimate just how big that play was for him in the grand scheme of things. It’s one thing to do it practice. But a game? That’s a completely different story.
“During the game?” Wilson pondered. “Now you know it’s real. It counts.”
The play was just another step in Wilson’s transition from linebacker, where the Saints drafted him to play out of Illinois in the third round of the 2011 draft, to defensive end under Spagnuolo.
He hasn’t played end since high school and has to learn keys from offensive linemen as well as pass rush moves. Everything has sped up, he said.
He’s a long way away from the projects in Chicago, where as a youngster he planned on being in the position he’s in today.
“(The) plan involved no particular college. I just planned on getting here,” Wilson said. “That was the plan. I didn’t know at the time how I was going to do it, but that’s why you learn to live through events you’ve experienced.”
He credits Robert Beverly, his middle school basketball and high school football coach for getting him to this point, where he’s a member of a small fraternity.
“There’s 53 players on a team every year,” Wilson said. “And I get to be a part of that 53-man. That’s a chip you should have every game, something you could be proud about.”