Sacrifice. Determination. Perseverance. Pain.
These are not football buzzwords for Albert Wilson.
They speak to the very nature of his identity.
Wilson, the Dolphins’ speedy new wide receiver, was the center of attention at training camp Wednesday. His high school team, Port St. Lucie, was at team headquarters to watch practice.
“Unreal,” was how Port St. Lucie assistant Jerry DeJean, who played high school ball with Wilson, put it.
And DeJean was right. It’s unreal to think that Wednesday could ever be possible.
Back when he wore his high school colors, Wilson was not just poor. He survived on the kindness of others.
Both of Wilson’s parents went to prison when he was very young, sending him into the foster care system. He attended five different high schools in eight grade alone.
“I was taught to play the cards that are dealt to you,” Wilson told the Herald. “That’s what my dad [Albert Wilson Sr.] taught me. I gathered up all I had and made the best of it since I was 9, 10 years old. And that prepared me for today.
“Going to foster care, not having nowhere to sleep, not having the next meal,” Wilson continued. “Having adults turn their back on you and stuff like that. ... I just stayed with it. And the one thing that stays consistent is football. That’s why I work so hard at it, I continue to build on it. Because I feel like I owe the game so much because it gave me so much.”
Wilson, to be clear, has no time or desire for your sympathy. He beat the odds, earning a three-year, $24 million contract to play for his hometown team, and does not feel at all sorry for himself.
Why? He’s living the dream.
Wilson works 90 minutes from home, and his dad, out of prison after serving a drug charge stint, catches most every open practice.
“It was something they ended up doing and had to pay the consequences with time,” Wilson said of his parents. “I don’t hold nothing against them. We still communicated through phone as much as possible, through letters. I feel like they haven’t missed a beat. It was definitely some tough times without them but I’m definitely glad to have them back and see what I’ve accomplished.”
He’s accomplished plenty — more than anyone could have imagined when he was essentially homeless as a middle schooler.
Wilson was the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers’ All-Area Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, totaling 2,631 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.
While he’s open now about his situation, at the time he was quiet enough about his hardship that some teammates had no idea that he lived with foster parents Brian and Rose Bailey, who brought Wilson into their home when he was in the 10th grade.
“It wasn’t something I was hiding,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t boasting about it trying to make somebody feel sorry for me. Just kept to myself, played my cards and see what happens next.”
What happened next was a decorated career at Georgia State, a program that started playing football in Wilson’s first fall on campus. He helped build a legacy for himself and his school, earning all-conference honors and becoming the first Panther invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Despite 4.4 speed, Wilson went undrafted; his size — he’s just 5-9 — was always a concern. But he caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs, catching 124 passes and eight touchdowns as a backup in four seasons.
His role will almost certainly expand in Miami, which plans to use him in a number of ways in 2018.
And being back in Florida has allowed him to get closer with his parents, who he saw only through a pane of glass for most of his childhood.
“I don’t hold nothing against them,” Wilson said. “We still communicated through phone as much as possible, through letters. I feel like they haven’t missed a beat. It was definitely some tough times without them but I’m definitely glad to have them back and see what I’ve accomplished.”