Ugandan-born Derrick Wilson looks to teach football beyond the campus lawn

Tyler McNeil, Managing Editor

Derrick Wilson found a new family while looking for friends at a Ugandan orphanage 11 years ago.

“I feel like the future is bright for me. I just keep looking forward,” he said. Although he had a father at home, he regularly visited the orphanage to play with children staying there. While playing with other children at the orphanage, he developed a strong bond with an American missionary worker.

As time passed, she discussed adopting him and his sister with Wilson’s father frequently. “It was a tough decision but I think it worked out very well. The future for me and my sister is very bright,” Wilson said.

He met his adopted mother two years after his birth mother died.  “I feel like I care so much about other people that I must have to got it from her,” he said. His mother travelled across the world for missionary work and Wilson hopes to continue her legacy in the future.

His father, who owned a convenience store, was struggling with his own health and only made enough money to survive, Wilson recalled. Growing up in Southern Uganda, Wilson was surrounded by poverty, famine and disease. “Many families actually did share food and it was tough to see even though we were all living in the same area,” Wilson said.

During Wilson’s first months in the United States, he binged whenever food was nearby.

“Its funny because I’m 20 and when I see people wasting food and water, it brings back memories,” he said.

As a born-again Christian, Wilson considers religion a driving force behind his survival. “I was very lucky to have God’s favor to be liked [growing up] and because of that I’ve always followed the same steps: like people, invite people, love people and make sure you don’t leave people behind,” Wilson said .

Three years after coming to the United States, Wilson found a new motivating force. After failing to become most valuable player of his soccer team at Mekeel Christian Academy in ninth grade, Wilson started developing an interest in football.

“Most guys are still shocked that I left soccer for football because I’m African,” he said. Although McKeel lacked a football program, Wilson spent much of his time playing football at Afrim’s Sports in Colonie.

Spending time in gym classes with children at McKeel for their community service credit program, Wilson taught children about football. He developed an interest in coaching and started to envision himself teaching children about football during future missionary trips. “I felt like I’m obligated to go out and teach someone new [about] the sport,” Wilson said .

Looking to eventually teach children how play football overseas, Wilson started pick-up football games on the campus lawn earlier this semester. “I was thinking, ‘You can’t go to an overseas country somehow think you’re going to influence kids just like that,’ so I figured I should try out on the bigger guys and see how it goes,” Wilson said.

Many of the games revolve around Wilson’s schedule. “I’ve come every Tuesday or Friday even if I don’t have to come,” he said. During weekdays, Wilson said players often ask him to play over text, even during days off.

Wilson has considered the games, which he calls the “Derrick Project,” an additional class in his course load. Since the beginning of the semester, he used the games as an experience to learn coaching skills such as preventing fights and easing players after losing. “You learn a lot from people that you don’t know,” he said.

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