Blood is thicker than football

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

MUKILTEO – The way Reid Wilson plays football, it should be no surprise that he enjoys drawing blood.

The senior Kamiak running back is half mad scientist and half football player. He spent last summer learning to be a laboratory assistant at Group Health, where he learned to take blood from patients.

At 5 foot, 9 inches and 160 pounds, he looks more like someone who’d come at you wearing a white coat carrying a big needle than a guy who levels linebackers on Friday nights in his No. 37 jersey.

“My friends kept saying, ‘Man, you’re weird. What’re you doin’ that for?’” said Wilson, who has rushed for 684 yards this season while splitting time with junior Justin Washington. “I tell them it’s better than applying at a fast food place. It’s a lot more fun.”

His pals think he’s half nuts and so do the Kamiak fans who watch him play. The little guy, who is the son of Cascade football coach Rollie Wilson and Group Health lab assistant Kathy Wilson, almost seems to enjoy taking hits.

When he returns punts, Wilson will almost never call for a fair catch, and you won’t see him let a ball hit the ground. He’ll take the pounding to give the Knights a couple of extra yards.

And when Wilson takes a handoff, he won’t be caught dancing around. It’s not the prom, after all, it’s football. He prefers to run straight ahead and shove back hungry defenders.

“Reid Wilson has the heart of a champion,” said Kamiak coach Dan Mack, whose team will play Tahoma on Friday night in a state playoff quarterfinal in Kent. “He’s an outstanding young man with a positive outlook on life. He is the consummate team player.”

Wilson believed that Kamiak, which lost most of last year’s state quarterfinal team to graduation, could be even better than it was last season. Perhaps the mad scientist knew something the rest of us didn’t. Or maybe he wanted the chance he didn’t get last year.

While his teammates were enjoying the limelight of the school’s first-ever trip to the state playoffs, Wilson was suffering from mononucleosis. He was sick for more than a month – the month that would have been the biggest of his life.

Things have never come easily for Wilson.

He was plagued with injuries his sophomore year – including a hip injury that still bothers him occasionally – and helplessly watched the Knights lose their final three games and fall out of the 1998 playoff picture.

And last season, he couldn’t help but wonder if he might have been able to help Kamiak make it past Kentwood in the quarterfinal if he had been healthy.

This year, he’s been injury-free, but it has been his most difficult season. His father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September. Rollie Wilson, who expects to return to his science teaching position at Cascade in mid-January, coached his last game of the season against Kamiak on Oct. 6. It was an emotional night for the Wilsons and both teams. It also was Reid’s first 100-yard game.

As scary as cancer has been for the elder Wilson, he now feels it happened for a reason. For the first time, he can enjoy his son’s games.

“It’s been a huge blessing in disguise,” said Rollie Wilson, who watched the Knights win their last three games over a nine-day span. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit back and be a parent. It’s been very good for me.”

Rollie Wilson could have had his son go to Cascade, a school rich in football tradition and conference domination. Instead, the Wilsons elected to have Reid help Kamiak establish its own stature in the Western Conference 4A.

“I know if I would have asked him, he would have come in a heartbeat,” Rollie Wilson said. “But why take him away from the kids he’s grown up with?”

They wouldn’t change a thing if they could do it over again, but it hasn’t always been easy.

Reid has endured comments, especially early in his career, from teammates who wanted to know if he was giving away Kamiak strategies to his father. It’s taken four years to prove he is a Knight at heart, not a Bruin in disguise.

And playing against his father’s teams has been tough. Though Rollie Wilson says they both approach it as just another game, Reid admits he doesn’t always feel that way.

Both hate to lose, and on nights when Kamiak plays Cascade, only one of them can win. For each of the last two years, it has been the Knights. In 1999, Cascade’s lone loss was to Kamiak and kept the Bruins out of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

Both teams entered this year’s game undefeated. Kamiak won the game 33-8, beginning an 0-5 Cascade tailspin to end the season. Wilson had surgery to remove the cancer the following week and has been steadily recovering since.

“It affects you,” Reid Wilson said of the Kamiak-Cascade games. “He comes home, and his players are down, so he’s down. It always makes that week kind of hard.”

Reid Wilson has had some of his best games in front of his father. His first 100-yard game came against Cascade, and his second was last Friday against South Kitsap with his dad in the stands.

It is his father’s words he hears when he straps on his helmet: “Play every play like it’s your last.”

He hopes his last play is still a couple of weeks away, in the state championship game.

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