But it’s the young men who came through the program that Wilson will remember, and miss, more than anything, he said.
Wilson announced his retirement from coaching on Thursday, ending a Hall of Fame career that saw him guide the Trojans to the 2001 state championship game.
“It needed to be done,” Wilson said this morning. “You know what, I still feel that I’ve got some more years of coaching in me. It’s just that I wanted to go out when I felt that way. I wanted to go out on my terms. We’ve had a couple great years in a row, and the program’s in a great shape.”
Wilson said he won’t hover around the program that he helped turn into a perennial playoff participant.
“I need to step away from coaching for awhile, maybe just a year, to find out what life is like without football,” Wilson said. “I’ve done this for 34 years. It’s dominated my life for over three decades. I need to refocus a little bit, make sure I’m taking care of some of the personal things with my family, enjoying these golden years.”
Wilson, 57, and his wife, Holly, have two children. Their daughter, Melissa, is a middle school special education teacher at Mona Shores. Their son, Philip, is a special education teacher and a football coach at DeWitt.
Wilson also announced he’ll retire from teaching at the end of the current school year.
Telling his team that he was retiring was one of the toughest things Wilson’s ever had to do, he said.
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve done, more difficult than talking to the kids when Coach Rueger passed away,” Wilson said, referring to longtime defensive coach Larry Rueger, who died just days before the Trojans began practice this fall. “I did not have my emotions in check with the kids. It was difficult, but it was real nice, because afterward, every kid came up. I put my hand out to shake ‘em and they immediately pulled me into a bear hug.”
Fruitport Athletic Director Ken Erny had nothing but the highest praise for Wilson.
“He is a man marked by integrity, loyalty, character and faith,” Erny said in a press release on Thursday. “He is a coach whose influence continues to extend across generations of players. He has both demanded excellence and demonstrated it himself.
“Fruitport has been extremely fortunate to have such a man at the helm.”
Wilson said the wins have been great and the losses devastating — he still hasn’t gotten over to losing to Spring Lake this fall — but it’s the kids who have made his stay at Fruitport truly special.
“Before the DeWitt game this year, we had a 10-year reunion for our ‘Dome team, and I really enjoyed that, talking to the kids and their families,” Wilson said. “Some of them hadn’t been back here in 10 years, and to have them tell me I made a difference in their lives, those are the highs.
“Plus, the number of kids who have played for us who have gone into coaching, like Jay Stebelton and Greg Vargas. I take a lot of pride in the fact that what we’re teaching them here at Fruitport, they’re taking to heart and going into coaching to teach those same values.”
Wilson hopes that Vargas, who served as the Trojans’ defensive coordinator this past fall, receives serious consideration as the program’s next head coach.
“Greg would be my choice if I have any say in it,” Wilson said. “Greg’s a product of our program and he’s coached at every level. The school needs to open it up, and rightly so, but I’m really pushing for Greg to get the job.”