Kevin Wilson couldn’t convince his son to watch football with him.
At the Wilson household in Midland, Texas, the family constantly tuned in to sports broadcasts on TV.
That didn’t matter to Johnny Wilson.
As a kid, Johnny paid little attention to the games his parents and sister enjoyed, often choosing to go outside, spend time with friends or play video games instead. This was sometimes frustrating to Kevin, but Johnny, now a 6-foot-3, 304-pound college student, hasn’t changed his mind about football.
“I live it,” Johnny tells his father. “Why do I want to watch it?”
Although Johnny and his dad haven’t spent much time sitting on the couch together cheering for the Dallas Cowboys, Johnny bonds with Kevin through football. Johnny is a redshirt senior center on the Oklahoma State football team.
His parents go to each home game, and Kevin has attended every away game except a few when Johnny didn’t travel with the team during his redshirt season. After road games, Kevin makes sure to chat with Johnny, even if the conversations have to be brief before the Cowboys file onto the bus.
In some ways, Johnny is fulfilling an opportunity Kevin never had.
In the mid-1980s at football powerhouse Permian High School, Kevin was an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman, a predecessor to the team featured in the famous “Friday Night Lights” book and movie. He received interest from some colleges and considered playing on scholarship at Eastern New Mexico.
Then his plan inevitably changed.
During Kevin’s senior year of high school, a drunk driver crashed into the rear of his vehicle. A broken pelvis in two places and a ruptured spleen signaled the end of Kevin’s football career.
He put his situation in perspective.
“I was just really fortunate to be alive,” Kevin said. “Football was a big part of my high school … I wish I’d had the opportunity to go ahead and play in college, but no regrets on this end.”
Now, Kevin’s viewpoint of the college football experience is different from what he once imagined.
As Johnny has motivated his teammates in practice, Kevin has prepared to travel northwest. OSU football has led him to faraway states such as West Virginia and Iowa, but this schedule brings a new destination. He and Johnny’s grandmother are flying to Oregon for the Cowboys’ season opener against Oregon State.
Leslie, Johnny’s mother, witnesses and shares Kevin’s joy in their son’s accomplishments.
“(Kevin is) always there to cheer him on or (say), ‘Good job,’” Leslie said. “We are involved parents, but since he’s been at OSU, we let the coaches do their thing.”
Before Johnny was old enough for preschool, people projected the “athlete” image on him. The Midland Christian High School coach saw a 3-year-old Johnny, already larger than many of his peers, and proclaimed Johnny would play football.
“Even his pediatrician, because Johnny never didn’t grow,” Leslie said. “He was always 100 percent on the charts, and (his doctor) would always tell him, ‘When you become a football player, don’t forget about your doctor.’ It’s kind of like that’s just, a lot of talk surrounds football and sports from the time you’re little, so you really don’t know any different.”
Despite those outside expectations, Leslie and Kevin never forced Johnny to play. Instead, Kevin made sure Johnny waited to participate until the year after he became eligible for the Greater Midland Football League, realizing Johnny could benefit from time to get even bigger and stronger.
Although Johnny usually refused to sit through three hours of football on TV, Kevin, who coached Johnny’s youth team, found a way for his son to find more enjoyment in watching the sport. He had sideline passes to Permian games, which surrounded Johnny with the intense, larger-than-life atmosphere of high school football in Texas.
“He liked it live a whole lot better,” Kevin said.
It still couldn’t give Johnny the rush of energy he feels when he is in the middle of the activity on a field with a crowd roaring around him. He relishes chances to snap the ball and clash with defensive linemen. It might seem contradictory for a guy who loves football to hate watching it, but his enthusiasm for the sport is the reason.
“It just doesn’t hold my attention like actually playing the game does because I know how much fun those guys are having,” Johnny said.
Regardless of the sport, Johnny thrives in action. Kevin remembered how Johnny ran the lead-off leg in the 4 by 100 relay during seventh and eighth grade, dwarfing the athletes in the lanes next to him. He also set the Midland Christian shotput record. Kevin recognized that Johnny needed more than sheer size to succeed as an athlete, describing speed and mental toughness as other traits Johnny has shown.
Johnny has responded to the advice his dad gave him.
“If you’re gonna do it, you gotta give it 100 percent.”
This season, the stakes are higher than they were before. Johnny is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which honors the top collegiate center each year. He has only 12 regular-season games left as a Cowboy, and he is striving to set an example for the younger O-linemen.
“I just want to do special things,” Johnny said. “I think this whole team wants to do special things this year, and it’ll be my last year. I want to go out with a bang.”
Although Johnny is living a dream Kevin once had, Kevin said he doesn’t see it as that. Johnny’s football career is his personal dream, and Kevin is a loyal supporter. Johnny, still the independent kid who refused to watch the sport he plays, is creating his future.
“The (playing) football deal, that was all him,” Kevin said. “I pushed him when he needed just because he asked me to.
“He did everything. I just kind of guided him.”