The story of Josh Wilson is not an easy one. There are parts that are difficult, that don’t seem to belong in a sports feature. There are parts that hurt to read.
If you can make it through, if you can persevere like Josh did, you’ll meet us at the fence, where the senior quarterback is quietly talking to me about football and about life.
From the very beginning it was an uphill battle. When Josh was born his tiny body was poisoned with drugs. He weighed only three pounds, even though he was full term. He was kept in the hospital for weeks, force fed because he couldn’t even suck.
The infant pulled through, and soon Josh was adopted into a family that would eventually swell to include 9 other siblings. The doctors told the family that Josh would likely have developmental problems. They said he would miss his milestones.
Josh’s new family lived here, in the same hill country that surrounds Brewer. He grew healthy, making his milestones and confounding the odds. Still, it was not easy. He was a biracial boy in a sea of white faces.
Once, when Josh was in the fourth grade, he came home in tears. His mother asked him what was wrong, and he confided to her that none of the girls at school would be his girlfriend. He was convinced it was because he was “brown,” as he then put it.
His mother laughs as she tells me the story now. Her son is no one’s victim. She is adamant that I not withhold the details of Josh’s struggles. People need to know what he has come through, she insists.
She is a talkative, lively woman. She knows all of the players, all of their stories, and, I would wager, could run most of the plays if given a helmet and pads. Her regular contribution is an important one: she makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the team, dozens and dozens and dozens of them.
“When they’re on the field they’re all my sons.” She says proudly.
When Josh began playing for the Patriots he quarterbacked the JV team for two years. During his junior year on varsity he mostly played defense, as Brewer had an entrenched starter under center. Problem was, Josh and the starter were in the same class, and there was no reason to suspect that Josh would ever be given the keys.
Then a funny thing happened. After last season the other quarterback’s family decided to transfer him out. Just like that, Josh was in the right place at the right time.
“There are so many parallels between this school and that boy.” His mother explains.
Too small. Overlooked. Counted out. His mother recites the words like flash cards. They are the cues to an odyssey she has seen since the beginning.
“He’s my baby.” She says simply.
Josh leans against the chain link fence that runs around the football field. He is slender and sleek, built like a deer. His demeanor is uneasy and quiet, almost jumpy. As I talk to him his eyes drift off of me and scan the open spaces on either side of where I stand. Here is a true scrambler at heart. It is as if his brain identifies me as an oncoming defender and is directing him to escape.
“What does football teach you?” I ask him.
This settles the restless buck for a moment. He scratches his chin and readies an answer:
“You can’t lay down when things don’t go right.”
I ask him about Brewer’s reputation, about all those losing seasons and his teammates’ talk of changing the culture.
He nods confidently.
“We’re gonna change it this year.” He assures me.
Finally it is time for the most important question of all. How are the girls treating him these days?
The kid flashes a smile that lights up the entire valley. His eyes are innocent, his heart is whole, and things don’t hurt like they used to.
Catch up on the Mountain Boys series here: