Wilson is an inspiration for his family
Arizona State sophomore tight end Jay Jay Wilson’s first career reception, which happened to be a 30-yard touchdown catch, came at a pivotal time as it tied the Pac-12 opener 34-34 with 6:21 remaining and injected a spark back into Sun Devil Stadium that had been extinguished when Cal’s third-down screen pass turned into a 74-yard touchdown on the previous drive.
It was a special moment, but Wilson admitted it did not fully set in until the next day when he saw an outpouring of love on social media and heard from his entire family. All 19 of them.
Yes, you read that correctly. Nineteen.
In addition to his father, mother and stepmother, Wilson has 16 siblings — six younger brothers, six younger sisters, two older brothers and two older sisters.
All are athletes too as the boys play football, basketball and run track, and the girls play softball and volleyball.
“We all have different personalities and we all have our own character,” Wilson said. “We all stick together and we’re all very close. I love all my brothers and sisters to death. They’re my biggest fans.”
Wilson said the touchdown reception was not anything special on his part. It was a regular play-action pass play and if the corner bit on starting tight end Kody Kohl’s flat route, then quarterback Manny Wilkins would throw to Wilson on the corner route.
He also credited junior running back Demario Richard’s second-half rushing effort and the offensive line’s push, both of which helped set up the play-action opportunity.
“It played out in my favor,” Wilson said. “It was more of a team touchdown. All I did was catch the ball.”
Joe Wilson, Jay Jay’s father, said he was driving home from one of his younger sons’ games when he heard the radio call of Jay Jay’s touchdown. Overcome with much excitement, he immediately pulled over.
“I’m so proud of him,” Joe said. “I know he was just wanting a shot to prove himself…He’s been through so much to get to this point.”
But the touchdown — which preceded ASU’s defense forcing three turnovers to help the team earn its best start since 2007 at 4-0 — was much more significant than the six points it was worth.
Wilson is the first in his family to attend college and knows his younger siblings look up to him as they begin to pursue dreams of their own.
“It’s a great feeling that I can be a positive role model to my brothers and sisters to show them that it’s possible for anyone to play at this level,” he said. “As long as you put in the hard work and dedication, it’s possible and I think by me showing that example, they truly believe they’re working hard to reach their goals and aspirations. I’m proud of them. I’m glad and happy that they’re proud of me as well.”
Joe described the home life like a “wrestling match” with each kid vying for their own necessary attention, which makes it even more important that they all have a role model as they grow up.
JayVaun Wilson, Jay Jay’s younger brother, is a sophomore running back and safety at Valencia High School in Santa Clarita, California, the same school Jay Jay attended. Living up to his older brother’s legacy has been a large focus, JayVaun said.
“I know I have a big name on my back and I can’t let everybody down, I can’t let my family down,” he said. “I can’t do bad things to embarrass that name.”
He said he admires Jay Jay’s work ethic and the way he “shows people what he plays football for.”
But JayVaun said Jay Jay has already instilled confidence and high expectations in him as his high school career progresses.
“I know I have to do better than him,” he said. “He’s been telling me since my freshman year that I can be better than him someday.”
Wilson was a 4-star recruit on Rivals at Valencia and appeared in 11 games during his freshman year at ASU, primarily on special teams.
Following an impressive spring ball performance, he was suspended for the first two games of this season for reasons he said were not regarding academics.
Those two games were the first he had missed since he started playing the sport at age 8. But the suspension turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened, Wilson said.
“There were times where it was tough because you know you have something precious that you’re truly in love with taken away from you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I had to take responsibility because it was no one else’s fault but mine.
It made me appreciate where I am, it made me humbled to be where I am. I’m blessed, a lot of people would kill to be in my position.”
Wilson said he took responsibility for his actions by being the best scout team player possible, displaying his unselfishness. In addition to striving for continued improvement of his own, he tried to help Kohl, second-team tight end Raymond Epps and even his special teams' replacements during those two weeks.
He said Kohl has been like a big brother to him since the two met during Wilson’s first day on campus.
Not only are the two linked through a common position group, but Wilson said Kohl related to him well because he had experienced similar issues in his personal life.
“Things you think only you are going through, but if you open up and communicate, some guys have been through the same thing and they help you get through it faster than they did to help you focus on the things that are most important, which are my goals,” Wilson said. “(Kody) is helping me do that and not just stay in my emotions. He helped me prepare myself to get better and be an impact on this team.
He’s helped me be a better blocker, a better football player and overall a better person.”
Wilson said his most noticeable improvement is in his blocking ability. He credited offensive line coach Chris Thomsen and tight ends coach DelVaughn Alexander, noting that Alexander — the team’s former wide receivers coach before Jay Norvell— did his fair share of researching NFL tight ends before the season to gain more knowledge to pass on to his players in Tempe
Some of those improvements were seen in the Cal game, Wilson said.
“Jay Jay has worked hard to get to where he is now and continued to improve himself and I think he’s a very talented kid and he’s a young guy,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “We’re looking forward to the future with him for sure.”
Wilson said the only moment in his football career that tops last Saturday’s touchdown reception is when his Valencia team overcame a 27-point deficit and defeated Hart High School 28-27 to clinch the school’s sixth straight Foothill League title in 2014.
Wilson scored the game-winning touchdown as his current teammate Brady White watched from the Hart sideline. Wilson said the two still joke with each other as he uses that comeback victory, but White counters with Hart’s CIF title win over Valencia the year before.
Now, the two have been on the same sideline as their team has overcome deficits of 16 and 14 in consecutive weeks, the former being the program’s largest road comeback win since a 22-point comeback at San Diego State in 2002.
“No one on the team has been fighting our coaching and I think that’s the best part,” Wilson said. “We have a huge heart and the heart of all these players together beats as one. We never give up on each other, we always believe in ourselves, we believe that we’ll come out victorious at the end of the day.”
ASU now faces a difficult USC opponent in the team’s first return to the Coliseum since the famous “Jael Mary” play two years ago. Wilson, who grew up a big USC fan and enjoyed watching running back Reggie Bush, said the opportunity to go back home and play against a team he once looked up to is special.
“Growing up as a kid, your goal is to go to the NFL,” Wilson said. “You also want to go to the big college and play. Coming where from I come from, not many people make it to even college. The fact that I was already here was a blessing to my family and to me as well, just to be here on this campus and be here on scholarship to get an education and play football at this level.”