Aug. 29, 2012
By Phil Chardis-UConn Assistant Director/Athletic Communications
Blidi Wreh-Wilson just isn't comfortable when it comes to taking time off --- not during games, not during practice, not during school. It's simply the way the University of Connecticut senior cornerback was raised.
"I didn't miss a day of school from kindergarten through 12th grade ... never missed a day, unexcused," Wreh-Wilson said. "I thought I was a nerd for it at first, but looking it now, I know that when I come in every day, I know it's time to work, regardless of how I feel. No matter what's going on, when I walk through the door, it's time to go to work."
Which is why it was so difficult for Wreh-Wilson when a sprained MCL forced him to sit out five games in the middle of last season and one of the reasons why he is so eager to begin the 2012 schedule as the Huskies take on UMass on Thursday. Wilson was recently selected as one of four captains for the Huskies this year -- the second year he has been named a captain.
"The injury gave me a lot of motivation," he said. "It was a lot of work to get back to 100 percent, but I went through a great rehab program. While I was out, it helped to get some of the younger guys, like Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown, some game action and made our secondary stronger."
It's a secondary that Wreh-Wilson has helped anchor for the Huskies since 2009. The 6-2, 190-pounder has played 33 games, starting 29. He enters the 2012 season with 134 tackles, 100 unassisted, 25 pass break-ups, and seven interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
"To me, Blidi has always been on top of his game," said UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown
, who handles the cornerbacks. "For some guys, especially the really great ones, the game just comes naturally. Blidi understands splits and where to line up so it puts him in an advantageous position, whereas some guys just go line up with no thought. They do exactly what you tell them to do, like robots, but this guy can think his way through it. You talk about dividers and spots on the field where receivers are going to align and he just gets it."
Which is somewhat remarkable, considering that Wreh-Wilson hasn't even been playing the game all that long.
In fact, if not for the persistence of football Coach Jim Wells at General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pa., Wreh-Wilson might not have played football at all. A solid soccer and basketball player, Wreh-Wilson finally gave in to Wells' pleas that he try football in his senior year.
"He heckled me to come out," Wreh-Wilson explained. "I played basketball and he said he wanted me to play corner, which is just like pressing in basketball, so it correlated. You're just playing close to somebody, you've got to mimic their actions. Basically, you have to be like a gnat on them, sticking to them wherever they go."
Football wasn't a familiar sport to the Wreh-Wilson family. Blidi's parents, D. Elliott and Lucinda, had emigrated to the U.S. from Liberia with Blidi's older brother, Elliott Jr., settling in Malden, Mass., where Blidi and younger sister TL were born. After his father had earned an undergrad degree from Boston College and a graduate degree from Boston University, the family moved to Edinboro, where D. Elliott currently is a professor and head of the philosophy department at Edinboro University. It's no wonder why Blidi, an economics major, is an outstanding student.
"At first, my parents didn't know how to handle the football, but they warmed up to it and they actually like football now," he said. "I think it's been good for them and they've had a chance to attend some big games.
"They were surprised when I actually got a football scholarship, but when I got it, as soon as my dad heard `UConn' he said, `Academics? OK, let's go.' My dad's a Patriots fan, so he knew the game. He didn't understand it like he does now... he understands it thoroughly now."
So does Blidi, who has come a long way from merely playing basketball defense at cornerback.
"I was halfway there, but it is all about technique," he said. "But since Coach Brown got here, he's a technician ... technique, technique, technique. Once you get the technique down, confidence comes and the more confidence you have, the better you play.
"Soccer helped out with footwork and stuff, but once I came here, I became a student of the game. I knew I was behind some of these guys, but the coaches helped me out. Now I'm working with Coach Brown and some great DBs and some great coaches, so it's all helping me out."
And it just might help him into a football career beyond UConn.
"Blidi is one of those guys you really don't worry about," Brown said. "He's a football player. He's a tremendous young person. He's a student of the game. He's a tremendous student-athlete. He's the whole package. "Some guys are sharp mentally, sharp physically, have a Division I body, do all those things, and he's one of those. I've got no reservations about the guy. I think he's a Sunday (NFL) player for sure."