Coach Jim Tressel, left, and a team doctor examine Lawrence Wilson s leg in Ohio State s opener against Youngstown State last year.
Terry Gilliam / AP
COLUMBUS The images that flutter through Lawrence Wilson s mind in the middle of the night are not those that customarily fill the deepest sleep of most 21-year-old college students.
He is not envisioning the comforts of wealth and success he hopes to find after graduation, or tricked-out cars, exotic beaches and beautiful women. The movie screen in Wilson s innermost psyche keeps returning to a short, mundane clip that involves gladiator-style physical battles, the anvil-like weight of demanding expectations, and 105,000 eye witnesses to every performance.
Wilson, a junior defensive end at Ohio State, broke his right leg in the first game of the 2007 season and has spent the past 12 months recovering, rehabbing and letting his mind s eye tease him with notions of returning to the field for the
I have dreams about it, Wilson said as Ohio State prepares for its 2008 opener against Youngstown State on Saturday. His injury, a fractured fibula, occurred against that same team on Sept. 1 last season in a 38-6 win by the Buckeyes.
I have dreams about the first game, about coming back, and it s weird because I ve had them multiple times. I m so excited to get back out there and prove to my teammates I can still make plays.
The rest of the Buckeyes already believe that Saturday s game film will merge fantasy with reality for Lawrence Wilson.
He s quick, he s fast, he s real athletic out there, and he s strong, senior linebacker James Laurinaitis said about Wilson, a pass-rushing demon. Lawrence looks ready, and I don t think anyone is more anxious for that first game.
Wilson (6-4, 265) was Ohio s top defensive end coming out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the same high school that produced NBA star LeBron James. He played in all but one game as a freshman at Ohio State in 2005, and was a back-up again in 2006, recording six sacks and appearing in all 12 games.
The leg injury and subsequent surgery brought an abrupt close to his 2007 season, his first as a starter. Wilson said once the initial shock over the lost year subsided, his commitment to return jumped into a higher gear.
At first you re down, you re stunned by it all, but you realize things could have been worse, and the opportunity to play will still be there, he said at Ohio State s recent media day. The motivation kicks in, and you want to do everything you can to get back out on the field.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock did not parse his words when outlining his assessment of Wilson s route back to the starting lineup.
I think Lawrence is better than he was at this time a year ago, Heacock said. His focus and his dedication are both outstanding. He knows exactly what we re doing, and
I think the injury and the long time away from all this made him realize just how much it means to him.
Wilson, once he had clearance from the doctors to resume contact work, had to go through all the strains and pains of playing his way back into football shape. He said that long, arduous road has brought him to game day in the best shape of his life.
A week before camp it just clicked, and everything felt good. I m 100 percent, he said. Physically I feel better. I ve lost 10-15 pounds, and I ve changed the way I eat.
I ve lost those pounds, and I feel lighter, I feel quicker, and I feel a whole lot better.
Contact Matt Markey firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6510.