A Guiding Spirit Points Terps' Wilson Toward the NFL

Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson figures to be selected in the second round of the NFL draft.
Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson figures to be selected in the second round of the NFL draft. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007

The newspaper story, sent by the boy's mother, sat untouched on a table in Earl Campbell's Austin home. He couldn't bear to look, to gaze into the photos and see that face. His wife, Reuna, read the article and she wondered why he wouldn't too. After all, this was the son of his best friend in that newspaper, a child so familiar the boy referred to him as "Uncle Earl."

Read the story? Earl wanted to. More than anyone could ever know. He was so proud of Tim Wilson's son, now all grown up and a star cornerback at the University of Maryland. The boy was just like his father, happy, bright, naturally a leader. Back when they roamed the field as Houston Oilers -- Earl as the Hall of Fame running back and Tim as his blocker -- Tim was his mentor, his savior, his best friend.

"We were like brothers," Earl says.

But Tim had been gone for years, now, his big heart giving out one night in 1996. Earl had watched Josh Wilson grow up from afar, seen him blossom into a man.

Every day Reuna asked Earl if he had read the story on Josh yet. He said nothing.

He couldn't bring himself to pick it up.

Halfway across the country, Josh Wilson can barely contain his delight. He sits in the back of the Maryland football meeting room, always laughing. Always smiling. In a few days he will be drafted to play in the NFL just like his father. The chances are it will be sometime in the second round, meaning the wait tomorrow will be interminable.

But this is the day he wanted, the day he dreamed of ever since his mother Valanda told him on the day of the biggest youth football game of his life that his father had died. He would be a football player too, he said.

Now he will.

Josh carries in his wallet a football card of Tim Wilson, frozen forever on the sideline of a 1980 game, the sweat rolling down his face, the eyes steely, determined. Long ago, Josh put the card in a plastic sleeve but now the sleeve has split, its edges have worn. The card's corners are no longer sharp.

His girlfriend worries he might lose the card. What would happen then? Josh has other cards of his father, but for some reason this is the one that's special, the one he cherishes more than anything else. Why not get a tattoo of the picture, she suggested.

Josh Wilson hates needles. The thought of a needle digging into his skin for hours horrified him. But the face on that card is the face that is burned in his memory, the one he is certain has been looking over him for all these years. Yes, he said, he would get the tattoo. And so now Tim Wilson stares from his son's chest, right above the heart, every time he looks in a mirror.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company