NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WZZM) – Famous self-counseling author Ralph Blum once wrote, “Nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.”
That quote perfectly defines a student-athlete from Mona Shores High School whose adversities in life have been much larger than most. On November 22, 2014, Elijah Wilson was unexpectedly called upon to lead his Mona Shores football team to a state semifinal victory.
He did it.
When he celebrated afterwards, it was one of the few times in his life he could truly submit to the thrill of winning, because his 17 years have been defined by loss. If it’s true that life’s misfortunes are stepping stones to fortunes, then Elijah has riches awaiting him.
If you ever get a chance to visit the weight room at Mona Shores High School, the walls are covered with words and phrases to motivate and inspire the student-athletes. There’s one phrase on the wall that stands alone for one Sailor who’s already had to navigate through many of life’s storms.
The phrase reads, “Life’s roughest storms prove to be the strength of our anchors.”
“I use that to push me forward,” said Wilson, who is currently a junior at Mona Shores, and is a three-sport athlete with the Sailors. “I try to take my aggression, everything out, into football and into hockey.”
There’s a reason why Elijah has so much aggression.
“With her not being here, it’s rough,” he said.
Elijah Wilson’s claim to fame unfolded on semifinal Saturday last fall – November 22nd.
Mona Shores was facing Farmington Hills Harrison in the Division 2 state semifinal football game, with the winner advancing to Ford Field to play in the state championship game. During the first half, the Sailors’ star quarterback, Tyree Jackson, suffered a dislocated kneecap and would not return to the game.
“When I saw Tyree go down, I started warming up,” Wilson said.
Later in the game, the Sailors second-string quarterback, Tyler Trovinger, was injured, suffering a concussion. Trovinger remained motionless on the field for several minutes. Paramedics were called in and Trovinger was put on a stretcher, wheeled off and into an ambulance.
Mona Shores still had work to do in the game, and Elijah Wilson’s work, as the third-string quarterback, was just beginning.
“Once I went in, it was crazy,” said Wilson.
All of the sudden, it was Elijah’s time, and his grandmother, Helen Wilson, was glued to her radio back in Muskegon listening to the game.
“Come on baby, you can do it; you can do it,” Helen Wilson said, explaining how she was reacting when she heard that Elijah was entering the game as quarterback.
The Sailors were trailing in the game 24-17 to Harrison with barely over four minutes left in regulation. Elijah had 76 yards in front of him, which may have seemed like a daunting task to any other third-string quarterback whose name isn’t Elijah Wilson.
He didn’t waste any time covering those 76 yards.
Wilson took the snap and hit wide receiver Kobe Burse on a crossing route, and Burse did the rest, out-running the Harrison defenders all the way to the end zone. Still trailing 24-23, Mona Shores head coach Matt Koziak decided to go for the two-point conversion and grab the lead, thinking he may not get the ball back again. Koziak ran a play the team hadn’t ever practiced before, but he had confidence in Wilson, and Wilson had confidence in himself.
Wilson would connect on a dump-pass to running back DeOntay Moffett for the two-pointer, and the Sailors would hang on for the improbable 25-24 victory. The most unlikely of quarterbacks led the Sailors to the school’s first-ever appearance in the state championship game.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Wilson said.
A week later, Mona Shores faced Warren De LaSalle in the championship, but got blown out, 44-8.
It’s losing that Elijah Wilson has the most experience with in life. His short life has been defined by a different kind of loss. Profound loss.
“I grew up with my mom until I was about 3 years old,” Wilson said. “She was murdered in Muskegon Heights; she was shot in the head about 6 times.”
On March 22, 2002, Cassandra Wilson was gunned down while sitting in her car.
“I really don’t remember a lot of it,” Wilson said.
“Unfortunately, the same night, Elijah’s dad did a home invasion and he went to jail for seven years,” said Helen Wilson, Elijah’s grandmother. “Elijah lost both parents on the same night.”
Before his mother’s funeral 13 years ago, Elijah had one request when he saw his mom in her casket.
“I remember him going up to his mom and saying, ‘grandma, my mommy’s cold she needs a blanket,'” said Helen Wilson. “I said, ‘tomorrow when we come, we’ll put a blanket on her.'”
On that cold March day in 2002, Elijah’s sense of loss would soon deepen by another.
His father, Lee Robar, would obtain custody of Elijah for a period of time, before he eventually walked out of his son’s life.
“I haven’t seen him since 8th grade,” Elijah said.
At 12 years old, Elijah was left by himself, and his life would remain turbulent.
“Once my dad disappeared, I moved in with my grandmother,” Elijah said. “My grandma and I leaned on each other which helped us through all the tough times in dealing with my mother’s death and all the rest of the stuff.”
As Elijah grew through his teen years, a strong bond, between the son and the mother he never knew, has grown stronger.
Elijah made a special t-shirt covered in images of his mother Cassandra.
“I like to wear it in athletic games,” said Elijah. “Even though she’s not physically here, it’s helped me get through, and I know she’s always there with me.”
Recently, Elijah and his grandmother have been facing more adversity.
“She told me she found a lump in her chest,” Elijah said. “With my grandma having breast cancer, she’s been one of the strongest women I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Helen Wilson says she’s determined to beat the disease because, “I have to be around for Elijah,” she said.
“My grandma has always told me to make the best out of what you have,” Elijah said.
This is why Sailors often rely on a strong anchor. The Mona Shores Sailors have one in Elijah Wilson, whose inner strength during life’s storms is drawn from his anchor from above.
Helen Wilson just finished her chemo treatments and will find out soon what the next step will be in her cancer journey. Elijah is playing hockey this winter and wearing the special t-shirt under his jersey during every game. He says he’ll be competing for the starting quarterback job at Mona Shores next fall.
Despite all the loss, Elijah Wilson is showing everybody that he’s built for winning.