Despite being more than 500 miles and close to 10 hours away, Kevin Wilson doesn’t forget about Catawba County.
The Maiden graduate and current University of Indiana head football coach remains close to his county ties and is also trying to forge his own path with the Hoosiers.
Wilson knew from a very young age that he wanted to get into the coaching profession.
“I went to the University of North Carolina because I wanted to coach,” he said. “I thought I’d not only get a great education at Chapel Hill, but I wanted to coach. I knew their coaching and the commitment to doing everything at a high level. I knew going in to college that I was going to be a high school teacher and a coach.”
After playing four years at UNC-Chapel Hill, Wilson spent three years as a graduate assistant with the Tar Heels from 1984-86.
He also had a pair of one-year tenures at Winston-Salem State as an offensive line coach and North Carolina A&T as an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
The opportunity to return to Catawba County, though, came in 1989 when Wilson was approached by former Foard principal Allen Biggerstaff.
“He called me up and asked me to be his head football coach and athletic director,” Wilson said.
After accepting the position at Foard, Wilson showed up in mid-July to prepare his squad.
However, by season’s end, the Tigers were 0-10.
“We got close in a couple of games,” he said of Foard’s 1989 season. “If we could have coached or managed a couple of those games better, we could have squeaked out a couple of more wins.”
While he had fulfilled his dream of teaching and coaching, Wilson still had an itch for the college scene that needed scratching.
“I kind of got hooked on college football and felt like I made a mistake,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t a mistake being at Foard, but I loved college football more than I realized. I was working behind the scenes to trying to get a new job.”
Wilson eventually landed on former Tar Heel Randy Walker’s staff at Miami of Ohio, starting a 24-year journey for Wilson in coaching that included many struggles.
“You are making low money,” he said. “My first job was $22,000. I think 15 years after I started as a coach, I finally made it to where I was making in the high $40,000s. In my 16th year, I got a chance to go to Northwestern. You pick the career, you pick the track and a lot of people will probably give up on it. I was close to it myself. On the outside, my career is maybe perceived as better, but it took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and a lot of luck.”
Wilson’s biggest lesson early on was patience.
“Everyone wants a lot of success,” he said. “As a young coach, you want everything right now. You expect it to be easy. It was really just about perseverance and sticking with it. I walked on to the University of North Carolina as a football player and had to earn my scholarship. I was a solid back-up player. It took a lot of time and perseverance to earn a scholarship.”
Wilson would eventually coach nine seasons Miami (Ohio), three seasons at Northwestern and nine seasons at the University of Oklahoma before landing his first college head coaching job at the University of Indiana on Dec. 7, 2010.
He said there are many differences between college and high school athletics.
“There is significant of commitment to funds to your sport,” Wilson said. “The school needs a return on that investment. You want to graduate your players and turn them into quality men, but you also need to put a product on the field with the investment being made.”
After inheriting a team crippled by recruiting woes, Wilson’s Hoosiers stumbled in his first season by going 1-11 overall and 0-8 in Big Ten play.
“Our best players were our younger players,” Wilson said of his 2011 Indiana squad. “We played a lot of young players not because we were a new coaching staff and wanted to play our guys, but because they were our most talented players. We played 16 redshirt freshmen and 16 true freshmen. Thirty-two freshmen played in that first year.”
The Hoosiers improved from year one to year two under Wilson, winning four games, including two in the Big Ten.
Indiana’s 2012 season included several nail-biting finishes with the perennial powers in the conference, including Ohio State and Michigan State.
“Last year, we won four games and lost a game by one, two, three and four points,” he said. “We got a little bit better and a little bit closer. We’ll see this year with so many guys back if we can take another step, brand Indiana football and hopefully find a couple of more ‘Ws’ to keep moving ourselves towards being a winning team and a bowl-eligible team. This is a great school. We’ve got great facilities. Our administration is making a great commitment. We just need to parallel that with on-field success.”
Wilson is excited about his Hoosier players heading into the 2013 campaign.
“We’ve got 19 returning starters as we start my third year,” he said. “We have the ninth-most experienced team in college football. We’ve got guys that have played against Ohio State a couple of times and against Penn State a couple of times. Those young guys got bounced around. As you go into year three, they can kind of stand up now and take the fight to them.”
This Friday, Wilson’s alma mater in Maiden High School collides with his former team in Fred T. Foard on the gridiron.
Asked for who he would pick in the contest, Wilson didn’t hesitate with his response.
“I always root for Maiden,” he said. “Matter of fact, the year I was at Foard, I think Maiden beat us 15-6. We battled them pretty close in week two. That was a game we wanted to win. Every Friday night, I call home and see what is going on with the Blue Devils. I always have and always will. That’s not slighting Foard. I enjoyed my time there. Those people in Catawba County are awesome folks. I was touched in a big time way from little league football all the way through the high school experience.”