ELKHART — With tears coming from his eyes, Jeff Wilson, Sr. expressed gratitude toward the Elkhart Independent School District on behalf of his son during a special reception.
The district marked Friday as “Jeff Wilson, Jr. Appreciation Day,” with a 30-minute presentation in the Elkhart High School gymnasium.
“I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” said Wilson, Sr., who told onlookers every trip past Ives Memorial Stadium turns into an excursion down Memory Lane. “You've helped him get where he (Jeff Jr.) is today.”
The reception came complete with a cake featuring the logo of the San Francisco 49ers, who Wilson Jr. currently plays for as running back.
Most of the family was in attendance on Friday, including two sets of parents (Jeff Wilson Sr. and his wife, LaVonda, and Angela Dudley, and her husband, William).
Dignitaries from the EISD board of trustees were present, and a hopeful candidate for sheriff, too.
This was a big deal.
Students streamed yards into a hallway during a meet-and-greet with Wilson Jr. in the high school's meeting room. The home half of the gymnasium was packed with people. The band played the school fight song. Memories were shared like food at a church picnic.
“Excellence comes from intentional actions,” said first-year EISD superintendent Dr. Lamont Smith. “Those actions have helped Jeff stay on the field, and Elkhart will always be your home.”
Elkhart athletic director Jason Fiacco and Smith unveiled a special framed jersey of Wilson Jr. that will hang in the foyer and should serve as an inspiration to Elks' students now — and into the future.
(An aside, the sports editor appreciates Elkhart for doing this early. I think it's sad that Groveton hasn't honored former player Lane Johnson, an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, in the same manner the Elks did yesterday.)
“I want to thank God for the opportunity to come back and see you,” said Wilson Jr. to the students during a speech, which lasted roughly 10 minutes.
“I was sitting in the exact same seats hearing the same message from someone else,” the 49er told the audience. “The most important thing I want for all of you is to reach for the stars.”
He shared stories from inside the 49ers' locker room, and told students that anything is possible.
Well, anything is possible — but, Wilson's perseverance made his 2018 tale all the more impressive.
“He made us all good coaches,” said Elkhart High principal Jason Ives, who served as the Elks' offensive coordinator when Wilson, Jr. played. “He's every coach's dream, and he practiced like he played.”
Ives said Jeff's will to succeed is what made Wilson Jr's rise from college standout to the 49ers' main roster become a reality.
Wilson Jr. signed as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco in late April, which lengthened the odds for what he accomplished.
According to statistics actually gleaned from a former movie called “Coach Carter,” the chances of a high school senior being drafted by an NFL team is about nine in 10,000, or 0.09 percent.
That's about the same chance a human being has of possessing an IQ of 150. These numbers may also be found in a recent study from the NCAA, an organization that has time to crunch statistics like this.
Wilson went from trying to make the 49ers' roster to the practice squad, thanks to the wisdom of head coach Kyle Shanahan — who obviously liked what he saw.
Thanks to a slew of injuries, and other running backs underperforming, San Francisco promoted the 23-year-old Wilson, Jr. to the main roster in November.
In six games with the 49ers, Wilson, Jr. rushed for 266 yards on 66 carries (four yards per carry), and he added 98 yards in receptions. His season-high rushing total came in a 20-14 victory over the Denver Broncos (23 carries, 90 yards).
Ives discussed the litany of Jeff's accomplishments, which widened my eyes to the size of pepperoni on pizza.
Wilson Jr. was selected to a pair of high school football all-star games while a star for Elkhart, where he rushed for a school-record 6,878 yards and 82 TD. One season for the Elks, Wilson gained 2,749 yards on the ground with 36 TD). He rushed for six TD three times at the high school level.
Wow. Just wow.
Here's hoping the current Elkhart students pay heed to Wilson Jr's advice, and reach their ultimate dreams — like Jeff Jr. had when he was a youngster and told his dad Jeff Sr. he wanted to play in the National Football League.
Editor's Note: This column doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the Palestine Herald-Press, or its parent company, CNHI.