When he was younger, Jacksonville Sharks wide receiver Devin Wilson was often left without a father figure.
From the inner cities of Nashville Tennessee, with his father in and out of prison, it was his mother that put the pigskin in his hands.
“My mother literally took me into the backyard in the projects and told me the game of football is gonna keep you out of trouble,” Wilson said. “I didn’t have that father figure around, it was just my mother, me and my brother.”
Football served as the perfect thing to keep Wilson away from the distractions his environment may bring.
“It definitely gave me something to strive for,” Wilson said. “With football, came more responsibility, my mom she believed in setting standards and morals with me and my brother so from the beginning, ‘If you don’t do good in school, don’t have good grades, then you can’t play football so that helped me focus on school.”
These lessons paid dividends. In his junior year of college at Tennessee State University, Wilson was student athlete of the year.
It was never Wilson’s intention to go to school locally. Tennessee State head coach Fred Kaiss’s persistence in recruiting Wilson ultimately made the receiver’s decision much easier.
“Coach Kaiss stayed with it,” Wilson said. “He was coming to see me when he could, he came to my house and had dinner with my family and that kinda paid dividends and they were one of the only schools that would let me play receiver and the other schools wanted me to play defensive back or outside linebacker as well as gave me a chance to start as a freshman.”
Today, Wilson is a successful arena football player. However, this did not come without a learning curve.
“It was definitely a whirlwind to try and get used to,” Wilson said. “I remember my coach with the Richmond Raiders giving me my first opportunity when he emailed me asking if I wanted to play football again so I went out to Richmond, Virginia not knowing anything about arena football.”
A receiver with Richmond at the time Herb Jones gave Wilson advice that ultimately made it easier for him.
“[He told me], ‘You have to stop running out of bounds, there is no out of bounds,'” Wilson said. “There’s a wall there and he straight up told me, ‘That wall is undefeated and it is never going to lose.'”
Wilson was met with a rude awakening very early on.
“It’s funny because my first pass in arena football against the Trenton Freedom, I ran a dig route and I caught the ball and literally ran right into the wall,” Wilson recounted. “I thought I shattered my entire arm and never felt anything like that before, the trainers started moving it around and getting my arm going so I got used to the wall real fast.”
From the projects of Tennessee, to playing for one of the most dominant teams in Arena Football. Wilson feels blessed on how his life has turned out.
“I can’t even [comprehend it], I came so far with my college coaches telling I was wasting my time training for a Pro Day,” Wilson said. “I had middle school coaches telling me I wasn’t big enough, coaches in other leagues telling me I wasn’t good enough or fast enough so it’s definitely fulfilling not letting anybody tear me down or stop me.”
There were days when he questioned himself and why he was still playing. But Wilson kept trucking forward.
“Ultimately I believed in myself the entire time,” Wilson said. “I knew that God had a plan for me and I’m just blessed to be in the position I am now.”