For Gloster native Damien Wilson, his sixth year in the NFL may not have ended the way he wanted but considering the circumstances he faced, he looks at it as a win.
“Making it through the year as far as durability and staying COVID-free, that much is true,” he said.
The former Amite County Trojan was part of the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs team that came up one win short of successfully defending its Super Bowl title from a year ago. They lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9 in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.
The 2020-21 season was one unlike any other Wilson has faced. Like other professional athletes, he had to endure all the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was all of the COVID hype,” he said. “We had COVID tests every single day. We had tests right before we came in and before we were leaving. The contact tracing was crazy because if your buddy got COVID and you were sitting next to him for too long, it would knock you out for the game, too.”
Wilson did not allow that to become a distraction. He remained focused on the task at hand — performing on the field and defending the Chiefs’ title.
“I was trying to focus on football as much as possible, and if you get COVID, you just get it, from my standpoint,” he said.
But in addition to the pandemic, he had a couple of personal setbacks as well, one of which involved the passing of a loved one.
Wilson was close to his uncle Augustus Russ, the longtime Amite County Career & Technical Center director who died in December due to complications brought on by COVID-19.
“I think that it was just a hard time for the family,” Wilson said of his uncle’s passing. “I couldn’t be there to grieve with everyone, but I appreciate the time that my family took to handle that themselves and to come together the way that they did.”
Even though he couldn’t be there, he wanted to play for his late uncle in a way to honor him.
“He was a big supporter, so I definitely wanted to do it for him,” Wilson said.
Getting the chance to play this year is something that Wilson is thankful for.
He finished third for the Chiefs in tackles with 73 and had a forced fumble as well in 13 games.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing this season. Late in the year Wilson suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss some time on the field.
“I believe it happened in the second game against the Denver Broncos,” he said. “My knee got hyperextended and it got scoped around the meniscus area and it put me out about three to four weeks. I came back and did a little test drive against the Chargers and it felt good. I also got a little break because of our bye week. It felt good so I played on it for the rest of the season. It felt good, it feels good now. It makes me anxious of how I could have been if I wouldn’t have come out.”
Even though his team lost in the Super Bowl, Wilson takes the experience as a lesson learned.
“If we would have won that, I would have been on cloud nine,” he said. “It taught me something. It taught me to not take it for granted because even though you go back to the big game, it doesn’t mean that you are going to win it.”
In addition to getting the luxury of playing with his cousin and McComb native Charvarius Ward, Wilson also got to face a former Amite County teammate twice a year in Las Vegas Raiders guard Gabe Jackson.
“He used to be my lineman in high school but now he tries to pancake me every time we play, so it is always fun to play against guys that you know,” Wilson said. “I am really happy for Gabe and the career that he is having.”
Growing in up in a tight-knit community like Gloster, Wilson said playing for his friends, family and fans back home provides plenty of motivation every week he takes the field.
“These are my people, and they are in my corner every step of the way, and I appreciate them for it,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that he feels the love from his friends, family and fans back home in southwest Mississippi and he is thankful for that.
“I just want to thank everyone for their continued support,” he said. “Whether I am in Minnesota, Dallas or Kansas City, I always have that same support group and the same people who reach out to me saying to go farther and do even better. I just want to say thank you to all of the fans.”