The wrestling matches always began as innocent one-on-one basketball games. Josh Wilson was perhaps less talented -- "he hustles real hard," Deyon Williams, pointed out, kindly -- and Wilson would compensate with physical play. The best friends would argue over fouls. Words turned into shoves. Soon, they'd be rolling around on the grass in Williams's backyard.
The wrestling would end, they'd return to the court and peace would descend upon Upper Marlboro, at least for a few minutes. Then the physical play resumed, the cycle repeated "and we'd start wrestling again," Williams said.
"He's tall, but he's skinny," Wilson said, insisting he got the better of Williams during those grappling sessions. "I've got the leverage."
For 10 years the best friends have waged competitions in amateur track clubs and high school track meets, in backyard basketball games and backyard wrestling matches, on PlayStation football fields and high school football fields and college football fields. Saturday, the venue will be Byrd Stadium in College Park; Williams is Virginia's leading receiver, Wilson is a starting cornerback at Maryland.
They were occasionally matched up against each other during last year's meeting in Charlottesville, and each has been needling the other for months in preparation for this game. Their parents, though, have mixed feelings.
"I know [Maryland's] my allegiance, but I want Deyon to do well," said Valanda Wilson, Josh's mother.
"It makes me kind of torn," agreed Ricky Williams, Deyon's father. "You wish for the best for both of them, even if they're playing each other."
Which is only natural, because Williams and Wilson consider themselves more brothers than friends. Their families live in the same Upper Marlboro subdivision, a five-minute bike ride apart, and during high school summers they spent virtually ever night together.
Wilson attended -- and sometimes still attends -- monthly family dinners with Williams's extended family.
"He fits right in, everybody knows him," said Debra Williams, Deyon's mother. "He's just like family."
Wilson would show up at his friend's house and remain even after Williams left, watching television, getting something to eat, taking a shower. Ricky Williams would go to work, leaving Wilson by himself in the house.
"Every time I'd call over there, I'd say, 'Send Joshua home so I can still put him on my taxes,' " Valanda Wilson joked.
The friendship also flowed in the other direction, into the Wilson home, where living-room wrestling matches continue to this day. In high school, Williams struggled to match Wilson's weight gain and was forever asking Valanda Wilson what his friend was eating, and thus there were joint dinners of spaghetti or macaroni and cheese. When Wilson was beckoned to the driveway to tote groceries, "Deyon would come out and help, just like I'd given birth to him," Valanda Wilson said.
Indeed, they call each other's parents "mom" and "dad," and the parents respond with similar affection. Wilson once won a sprinting event at a track meet in which both boys were entered; "at least one of my sons won," Ricky Williams said.
Williams introduced Wilson to his current girlfriend; Wilson went to Williams's senior prom. They talked about day-to-day worries, and they talked about major problems; Williams was the first friend Wilson confided to about his emotions following the death of his father, former NFL fullback Tim Wilson.
They fought once when they were seniors in high school, refusing to speak to each other for two days. In that time Wilson repeatedly reached for the phone, trying to call his friend before remembering that they were feuding.
"It felt like forever, man," Wilson said.
And the friendship continued even as they headed to rival ACC schools two years ago (both are now juniors). The two players talk every Friday night during the football season, and again after the next day's game, giving encouragement and progress reports. When Virginia had an early-season bye this year, Wilson secured tickets for Ricky and Deyon Williams to attend Maryland's home game against Clemson. Wilson said he has had trouble concentrating during film study this week, because his eye naturally follows Williams whenever he's on the field.
They also watch televised highlight shows, hoping to see each other making plays, and last Saturday was unparalleled in that regard. Williams, playing on his 20th birthday, caught two touchdowns in Virginia's win over Duke.
"Like everybody, I want Virginia to lose," Wilson said, "but I want Deyon to score every touchdown. Lose 55 to 56."
On the same day, Wilson scooped up a fumble and returned it 20 yards for the Terps' first touchdown in their win over Wake Forest.
"To look at the tube and see him, it's like a blessing," Williams said. "I feel pride. I'm like, 'That's the dude I grew up with, that's the dude I know.' This dude is like a brother to me. Me looking at him, that gives me motivation."
They also work out together in the offseason, running passing drills with other high school friends, talking about upcoming ACC games and providing a year's worth of fodder.
"I used to burn him on a couple routes, get his head a little shook up, get him scared," Williams said. "Every time I went up against him I said, 'Be prepared to get some of this during the season.' "
"He's lying," Wilson said. "I shut him down every time. I don't know what he's talking about. He's never caught any ball on me."
The two plan to continue such jousting on the field Saturday; they found a way to jaw at each other after virtually every play last year, even when they weren't matched up head-to-head. They'll try to land less symbolic blows as well; Wilson still talks about the time he drove Williams out of bounds last season. And after the game?
"After the game is done, he knows what it is," Williams said. "It's all love."
Terrapins Notes: Virginia returned a limited number of tickets from its allotment last week, and those seats are now for sale at the Maryland ticket office. Less than 500 tickets remain.