COVINGTON, Ga. — As former Alcovy head football coach Chris Edgar opened Tuesday’s signing ceremony, he did so by providing the customary greetings to parents, coaches, students and teammates, faculty, staff and other family that gathered in the school’s foyer area to watch Bryson Wilcox and Jalen Banks make their college choices official.
Once that was out of the way, he gave the floor to Wilcox and Banks to have words before the crux of the festivities began. Combined, the two Alcovy seniors maybe said 10 words, all in soft-spoken tones.
“The two most talkative kids in the bunch,” Edgar quipped, tongue firmly in cheek. People laughed in agreement.
For anyone who knew the two — particularly Wilcox — the fact that neither was a chatterbox in the moment was no surprise. For Wilcox, as long as he could remember, it had always been his way.
The 5-foot-9 cornerback donned a mile-wide smile that coordinated perfectly with his green and white Stetson University hat. Stetson, a NCAA Division I, FCS school, came calling because Wilcox, despite his diminutive nature, carved out a reputation as a hard-hitting, aggressive defensive back whose bite was louder than his bark — the way it should be for a defensive football player, according to Edgar.
The coach had a story to back it up, too.
“I remember, as a sophomore, we had Bryson on the kickoff coverage team, and he ran it right in front of me down our sideline,” Edgar said. “And he hit this kid from the other team. He hit him so hard that his helmet literally shattered. Nuts and bolts were flying all over the place. Face mask was all jacked up. And I had to pull a helmet off another kid who wasn’t going to be playing, just because Bryson was so valuable to us. That’s the mentality he has. ”
It’s the way Wilcox chooses to do his talking. Production. Actions speaking louder than words. During his senior season, he “talked” 46 times on the football field. That’s 46 as in the number of total tackles he accumulated in 2018. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage as a blitzing corner.
He also snagged an interception and tied junior Andrae Robinson for the team lead with six pass breakups. His play was loud enough that a handful of other schools besides Stetson pursued him for his collegiate services. Defensive backs with a linebacker mentality is rare, Edgar said.
“Most DBs kind of shy away from that kind of contact,” Edgar said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s never been afraid of that.”
In fact, Wilcox started his football career in the front seven. Perhaps that’s where that dog mentality comes from.
“I played linebacker in middle school and my freshman year,” Wilcox said. “That’s where the power and aggression comes from.”
But his fearlessness to stick his nose into the action derives from another, perhaps more unlikely source.
“As far as mindset of feeling like I can go and make a tackle on anyone, and not be scared of anybody, that comes from martial arts,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox is a third degree black belt in karate. He said the martial arts discipline taught him how to see each opponent as just another obstacle, regardless of the size.
“I’ve always been a small kid, so I got bullied a lot when I was younger,” he said. “But in karate, you may have to fight a guy who’s a whole foot taller than you or 20 more pounds than you. But it teaches you not to fear anybody but God.”
There was one time fear sort of gripped Wilcox, though. It was when he was about 11 years old, in the fourth grade. He started getting headaches at school. Sometimes he would black out completely.
“It could be while I’m walking to lunch or walking to class, I’d just blank out and lose my vision for a few seconds or even a few minutes,” Wilcox said.
But, thanks to that unassuming, quiet nature, it took a while before his parents found out.
“Whenever I’m sick, I don’t really tell my parents,” he said. “I’m just that type of guy to try and handle my own situations sometimes. That’s why I don’t say much. But it got to the point where it wasn’t fixing itself, so I just had to get it out and tell someone.”
After Wilcox told his mom, they promptly made an appointment and get him in for a cat scan, and that’s when Wilcox and family found he had a brain tumor. Within 24 hours, Wilcox was getting sedated on an operating table to have the tumor surgically removed. But even then, his 11-year old, no-big-deal mindset made him think it was much ado about nothing.
“As a kid, you don’t really know the deep aspect of the situation,” he said. “So even in the hospital, I’m just like, ‘man, I wanna go home. I wanna go home’ like it was just another doctor’s visit. But seeing the emotions of my parents and on my family’s faces, it makes you feel like you’re glad to be alive.”
It was, no doubt, one of those moments when everybody was glad that Wilcox deviated from his normal close-mouthed self.
“I thank God for it I spoke up as soon as I did, because if I went any longer, they may not have been able to fix it as fast,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re glad be alive. If anything worse would’ve happened, it would’ve torn my family apart. But it’s taught me how not to take life for granted. Whatever you want to go, chase it. And that’s what I expect to do right now, starting today.”
But it didn’t just start Tuesday. Edgar will tell you that he’s seen it since Wilcox stepped onto Alcovy’s campus.
“Bryson, he had that brain tumor removed. He became that third degree black belt, and he’s had that toughness in him from day one,” Edgar said. “It’s a funny story why he started karate. His mother said she knew he was an aggressive kid and wanted him to learn how to channel it the right way and also learn to defend himself in order to keep him out of jail."
No need for concern there. Edgar said both Wilcox and Banks have been exemplary students. “Never a disciplinary issue. Not one blemish on their record.”
But even if Wilcox has been an understated personality he has dreams that are almost as loud and large as one of his bone-crushing hits. Wilcox says he plans to major in computer science at Stetson. He wants to get into forensics analysis. At the same time, he’ll join the ROTC program there, and will spend eight years in the Air Force reserves upon graduation.
“Probably doing more on the technician side than in the front lines,” he said. “Not to lie to you. But, you know, they say school isn’t for everybody. Well, I’m one of those everybodies that school isn’t for. So I want to just pursue the world and use my free education to get what I need and make my mark.”
He’s already done it, overcoming insurmountable odds as an elementary school kid. Same thing can be said for his success as an undersized martial artist and diminutive defensive back in high school. Now, although he realizes college will present a fresh set of challenges, he feels like his time pushing through adversity at Alcovy has helped strengthen him to handle whatever this next level may bring.
“It’s all about proving everything, not to others, but to yourself, man,” he said. “When you start talking about Twitter and how us kids from Alcovy and Newton were going at it, maybe you’re not always able to prove things on the field or the scoreboard, because football is a team game. But you can prove it to yourself. That’s the mindset going into college. Everything’s possible with me.
“And I hope all my young guys, and the guys coming up under us are listening when I say you have to prove it to yourself. People didn’t know my name until my senior year, but look where I am now.”