Trojans honor Wilson with ceremony, plaque

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:42 AM

That's because the hundreds of former Trojans' players who showed up to recognize Wilson before Thursday's season-opener are like the former coach's family. He posed for pictures, shook hands and gave out hundreds of hugs, and the smile on his face masked how difficult the night was for him to be back at the stadium as an observer instead of a participant.

"To meet all these old guys, this is tough," Wilson said. "I haven't come up with the right word for it, but it's been difficult to see all this go on and not be in the middle of it."

Wilson poured his heart and soul into his 34-year hall-of-fame coaching career.

Stepping down was one of the hardest things he's done.

"Making that decision to step out, that was tough, but it was the right decision. It was the right time," Wilson said.

Wilson spent a few hours before kickoff meeting and greeting hundreds of former players who came to pay their respects. Then, moments before the game, he and his wife, Holly, along with their kids, Phillip and Melissa, got their first glance at a sign constructed at the south end of the field, near the large rock that was dedicated to another former Trojans’ coach, Larry Rueger, last fall.

The sign is surrounded by four posts topped with silver footballs. Those footballs are inscribed with the four pillars of his coaching world — faith, family, education and football.

Wilson then went around and shook hands with all the current coaches and traded hugs with the coaching staff before heading out onto the field, where hundreds of former players were lined up. Wilson went down the line, exchanging high-fives with his former athletes.

Once the game began, Wilson found himself in an extremely unlikely spot.

"I told myself, I will never sit up in the stands," Wilson said. "I told Len (Vargas) that I was going to stand up by him, but because my family is here, I'm going to sit in the stands. It's going to be tough to do."

Wilson watched his former team hold on for a come-from-behind 21-20 win over Reeths-Puffer.

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