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Meet Mr. Hyde : The Goal at Jefferson Was to Turn Nice Guy Eboni Wilson Into a Demon on the Field

October 09, 1994|CHARLES SMITH

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

That is the attitude that Jefferson High football coaches have instilled in standout defensive tackle Eboni Wilson.

Though Wilson, at 6-2, 240 pounds, is built like a grizzly bear, his friendly demeanor can be likened more to that of bear of the teddy variety.

This doesn't seem an appropriate mind-set for a player whose assignment is to destroy whatever gets in his way.

"He's a very nice, well-mannered young man," former assistant coach Rodney Webber said. "But we tell him not to be nice on the football field."

So Webber helped spearhead a project to turn Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde that began nearly two years ago. The transformation, Webber says, has not been easy, but the results have been monstrous.

"Sometimes we have to crank up his intensity. But when he gets cranked, he's unstoppable," Webber said. "He will beat one man every time. And if he is double-teamed, that will free up his teammates. You can't measure his value to the defense."

But you can stand in awe of the 17-year-old's rare blend of size, speed and strength.

Wilson's daily workout includes bench pressing 400 pounds or more, squatting 350 pounds and curling 125 pounds. He is surprisingly agile and fast despite his massive frame, running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds.

Wilson poses a sizable problem for Central City offensive linemen.

"No one can hold me at the line," said Wilson, a three-year varsity starter. "If they run a play through my gap, I'll stop it. If it's a quarterback, I'll be right on his back. I change a lot of game plans."

Last season, Wilson made first team All-Eastern League and second team All-Central City.

In 1994, Wilson expects to do one better: "This year, I'm going to make first team All-State."

Wilson, who had 8 1/2 sacks in 1993 and has four thus far this season, seems to feed on the contact that comes with playing in the trenches: "I love the physicality; I can let all my frustrations out on anyone that gets in my way. I like people coming at me and going at them. I focus in on my target and hope the referee isn't in the way.

"Defense is crazy, and I'm crazy."

Despite those occasional bouts of insanity on the field, Wilson was named co-captain along with running back Isaac Hatley.

Coach Hank Johnson respects Wilson's ability to overachieve, not only on the football field but also in the classroom.

"He's a very fine young man," Johnson said. "Players and people like Eboni don't come around very often."

Wilson, a senior who carries a 3.2 grade point average, was elected student body president last August.

Wilson's class load--Algebra II, Spanish II, Humanities Composition, Leadership, Economics and Physical Fitness--is also challenging.

This helps to exclude him from the dumb jock stereotype often associated with star athletes.

"I learn from football and from books, which is good because it makes you feel more comfortable with yourself," Wilson said.

Perhaps the only thing more admirable than Wilson's character is his dedication to a rigorous daily regimen.

He rises at 4 a.m. to lift weights at Jefferson from 6 until 7:10 a.m.

Classes begin at 7:20 a.m. and end at 3:14 p.m. Wilson then goes to the football field for a three-hour practice.

Around 7 p.m., Wilson presides over a teen shelter, A Place Called Home, in central Los Angeles. At the YMCA-like facility, neighborhood youths come to do homework, hang out and stay off the street.

"I help solve situations and I feel like a leader," said Wilson, who finally makes it home at 10 p.m.

Even Wilson is amazed at the amount of work he puts into a day: "I don't know how I do it, but I like it because I don't have time to goof off. I can handle it. It is not stressful, yet."

Weekends are spent doing homework.

Wilson's motivating factor is independence, financial and otherwise.

"I woke up one day, compared the good things and the bad things and decided I didn't want to scuffle," Wilson said. "I don't ever want to say I should-of, could-of or would-of done something."

The Democrats are off to a slow start this season at 1-3, but Wilson remains one of the most sought-after football players in the area. He has received letters from universities ranging from Miami in the East, Notre Dame in the Midwest, Texas in the South, and USC and UCLA locally.

Wilson has no preference at this point, but wherever he goes he says his priority will be education first, football second.

"I want to go to college and become an English teacher," Wilson said.

"I am using football to get my education and other things in life."

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