By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
Former Washington Redskins DE Chris Wilson strives to etch the image of success into the minds of today's youth, and instill hope in the community through his example, his journey and his recently published book, A Compass for Hope.
Wilson was raised in Flint, Michigan and is no stranger to struggle. He has seen his city in prosperous times as well as in times of dire need. Though the closing of General Motors forced many around him into financial burdens, he cited the work ethic and determination of his father and brother for teaching him persistence regardless of circumstance.
Like many youth, football first gave him an outlet from the Flint streets. With a chuckle, he added that it was also a safe, legal way to resolve neighborhood disagreements. But really, in times of uncertainty, the game gave him a great sense of self-confidence and allowed him to be secure in himself. But that was only part of the self-discovery that life and football would provide.
“I was a talented young man but never really defined myself,” Wilson said. “At one point I didn’t really see the point in college and my grades slipped to the point where I was ineligible for my high school’s football team.”
But two instances taught Wilson the stark difference between doubt and determination and how to use each as motivation.
He first recalled as a sophomore in high school when his good friend came to class excited with news that he had received an academic scholarship. The passion his friend had for education had become tangible, and Wilson knew that he would undoubtedly be successful. It made him want to find that kind of success himself.
But he was reminded that not everyone will believe in you.
One day a teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. When Wilson said that he could see himself playing in the NFL, the teacher responded saying his odds were way better to hit the lottery and that he should find something else to do.
His dad gave him advice expressing that working towards his goal is nothing similar to an attempt at winning the lottery. He told him to never worry about the millions of people that he is competing against, whether in life or sports. All he would have to do is dominate the one that he his matched against and he would always get promoted.
Wilson’s focus shifted to dominating. Not just in sports, but more importantly in the classroom. With the help of his father’s advice, his determination mitigated any doubts and he earned not only a place on his high school’s honor roll, but also an athletic scholarship to Northwood University, a Division II school in Michigan.
After completing his degree at Northwood University, and excelling on the football field, Wilson took his skills on the gridiron to the west coast in 2005. Not to play professionally for the 49ers, Raiders or Chargers—but as a member of the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
His stint in the CFL was short yet productive. He won the 2006 Grey Cup Championship, the CFL’s equivalent to the Super Bowl and played himself into relevance, not just in the league north of the border, but the one to the south as well. His childhood vision was still alive.
In 2007 he earned a contract with the Washington Redskins where he earned his stripes first on special teams and then on defense. In five seasons with the Redskins, Wilson played in every game, 80 in total.
“I realized it’s not so much about the talent,” he explained. “Its about the type of person, the professionalism, the diligence, the character.”
Wilson’s last pro season was in 2014, and in 2015, he was inducted into Northwood University’s Hall of Fame. Since leaving the game he strives to fill the need in communities to educate and empower kids. He believes that where he is from, most do not excel because they simply don't know the professionalism and work ethic that it takes to succeed.
“I’m trying to instill hope in the community, that is my mission,” he said. “I’m really working to change kids’ mentalities and it really shows up in their life and in their play.”
In order to promote growth, Wilson has involved himself in several capacities such as mentorship programs, college prep and more. He even began a Flint scholar-athletes tour taking several talented athletes from his hometown on to trip to various colleges, businesses and historical sites around Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.
On the tour, student-athletes were able to explore life outside of Flint’s city limits, build connections, and showcase their football abilities. Some even earned college offers right on the spot.
Wilson has had his hand in coaching at the high school ranks at Flint Southwestern, as well as collegiately at Vermilion Community College. He embraces his role as a mentor to young men, many of whom grew up without any form of a father figure.
Along with his coaching aspirations, Wilson and his mother started the Chris and Sharena Wilson Faith Foundation, and he published his first book entitled, A Compass for Hope. The book focuses on teaching youth to be equipped for life and sports, and to have goals and a vision to accomplish them.
“If you reach for the stars, even if you fall short you still end up high in the sky,” he said. “I encourage kids to go for it all.”
Not bad for the Flint, Michigan kid who was told winning the lottery was more true-to-life.
Wilson learned invaluable lessons along the journey to a nine-year professional career between the CFL and NFL. From internalizing his father’s advice of always hold himself accountable for his performance, to the competitive drive that it takes to succeed academically. Wilson is growing more in tune with his destiny and why God gave him this story instead of the first-round draft pick story.
“As you’re on your way to your destination, be conscious of which way God is trying to steer you in life,” he said. “As you learn more about your destination, God reveals more to you about your destiny. I’m starting to walk into that destiny, discover the passion that I have for it and fulfillment it gives me.”
For more information on Wilson’s initiatives visit the CSW Faith Foundation. Click here for more information about A Compass For Hope