Daquan Wilson is living out a dream after living through a nightmare.
“I had a troubling childhood, and it’s a blessing to be part of something like this. I’ll always have this memory,” said the Bellport star, who will play defensive end for Long Island against New York City on Wednesday in the 22nd Empire Challenge at 7 p.m. at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
“Troubling” is an understatement given what Wilson has experienced. “Here is the short version,” he said softly after Monday’s practice at Hofstra was shortened by rain and thunderstorms. “Once I hit high school, my parents split. I moved with my mom to another town. Didn’t have the father figure in my life.”
Then, he said, his sister was killed last July 3.
As reported in Newsday, Bryan Bethea was indicted on a charge of first-degree manslaughter in the beating death of Shantel Scott. Bethea is due to appear in court July 18.
That shocking and tragic event is the reason Wilson has pursued football with such passion and determination.
“That was my reason for playing this year. Everything was about her,” Wilson said. “Once I lost my sister, I’ve looked at the world a little bit differently. My purpose now, the reason I play, the reason I’m alive, is for her kids — to make sure they don’t have the troubled childhood that I had. It’s been a rough life, but my sister is there in spirit. She makes me want to live a good life — for her kids’ sake.”
Wilson recalled attending an Empire Challenge as a kid. Like many fans, he refers to it as “the Boomer Game” in acknowledgment of sportscaster Boomer Esiason, the former Jets quarterback who founded the event to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis, which afflicted his son Gunnar.
“When I was 5 years old, the dream then was to be part of a Long Island championship,” Wilson said. “Didn’t get that accomplished. But this was my other dream. I remember coming to the Boomer Game when I was younger and the dream was, ‘I could be part of something like that.’ I did it.”
Wilson has impressed the coaching staff with his personality as well as his talent.
“You know his personal story and his background and then you see what a great kid he is,” said East Islip coach Sal Ciampi, Long Island’s defensive coordinator. “We all think we have things tough, but we really don’t have it as tough as we make it out to be. Look at a kid like this, to be where he is as a human being, his maturity level, he deserves every little bit of success that he achieves.”
The 6-5, 210-pound Wilson had success at Bellport last season at defensive end, linebacker and defensive back. So he didn’t know where he’d be playing when he showed up for practice.
“I’ve never looked at it as being versatile. I just looked at it as wherever they put me on the field is where they needed me,” Wilson said. “Once I found out I was playing defensive end, I was eager to play with the bigger guys. It’s more of a challenge.”
Wilson is all about embracing challenges. His next one is college. He earned a football scholarship to ASA College of Brooklyn, a junior college with a reputation for sending players to Division I schools. He’ll major in criminal justice and acknowledged his past has something to do with his future career path.
“I want to say the right thing to kids,” he said. “Say to them what the adults in my life didn’t say to me.”