Trey Wilson never got a chance to know his father. When he was just 6 weeks old, his father, Shelford Wilson Jr., tragically passed away of a heart attack. Gone way too early at the young age of 25, leaving his wife, Harolyn, to raise Trey as a single parent.
Last Tuesday, Wilson, a senior defensive back for the Commodores, joined his teammates Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers as Vanderbilt's representatives at SEC Media Day in Hoover, Ala. Absent of the familiar storylines of his teammates - the leading returning rusher in the SEC and the younger brother of a certain Green Bay quarterback - little was known of Wilson by those in attendance at the annual media circus.
But those who met him soon learned what Vanderbilt coaches, players and staff already knew; that Harolyn did an outstanding job of raising Trey. The well-mannered, well-spoken and even better dressed Wilson impressed everyone at media day with his charisma and gravitating personality.
"Everything I am in life right now is because of her," said Wilson who regularly has his heart tested because of his family history with heart disease. "My mom means the world to me."
Harolyn worked long hours to provide for Trey and his younger brother, Jordan, who was born when Trey was 7. Trey loved sports, particularly football, but it was his education that took first priority at home. "There was no football if there were no grades," Wilson remarked.
While raising Trey and Jordan, Harolyn balanced motherhood with work and also managed to find time to return to school where she received her master's in business administration. She is now an adjunct college math instructor.
"She is a perfect role model and a great example," Wilson said. "If she can do it under the circumstances she was in, I know that the position I am in, even when times get hard, I know I can't quit."
And Wilson has been through plenty of lean times. Years after losing his father, the heartbreak continued when he was in high school at Evangel Christian Academy - a football powerhouse in his hometown of Shreveport, La. The likes of running back Jacob Hester and quarterbacks Josh and John David Booty have starred at the school.
Evangel Christian has a tradition where every graduating senior presents his jersey number to an incoming freshman who he feels will best represent him and continue the strong on and off the field tradition at the school.
The person who saw those traits in Wilson was Alan Rogers. Wilson planned on wearing No. 24 in high school before Rogers presented him with No. 8. "He is someone I always looked to, someone who looked out for me as a freshman in high school," Wilson said. From that day, an unbreakable bond was formed.
The same year he was presented with his No. 8 jersey, tragedy struck Wilson again when his cousin died in a car accident. But Wilson's heartbreak was not over. A few years later during the second semester of his senior year, he learned that Rogers had taken his own life.
Rogers may be gone, but his legacy lives on with Wilson, who continues to wear No. 8 as a Commodore.
"I decided instead of changing my number in college, I was going to stay committed to it and try to carry on his legacy, so every time I make a play I say a little prayer to Alan," Wilson said. "I'm glad I can still represent for him and his family."
At just 21 years old Wilson has already dealt with more tragic losses to those close to him than most do in a lifetime. Through it all, it has only made him stronger.
"Just all those things that would break some people kept me focused and kept me motivated and knowing where I came from," reflected Wilson. "It makes me appreciate where I am in my life."
The hard work and motivation paid off in a large way last season as he burst onto the scene as Vanderbilt's full-time starter at cornerback, opposite of Casey Hayward. He picked off three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns and also broke up 11 passes.
Now, as he enters his senior season, he is looking to take over what has become a very prominent role as Vanderbilt's top cornerback. Since D.J. Moore's explosive sophomore season in 2007, Vanderbilt's top cornerback from each season has eventually gone on to an NFL career. Following Moore was Myron Lewis, who was followed by Hayward.
With Hayward graduating last year, all eyes are on Wilson to slide into the role as Vanderbilt's shutdown corner.
For Wilson, it is a role he has craved since he arrived on campus.
"Everybody wants to be that next shutdown corner," Wilson said. "Everybody wants that role. It is definitely motivating to keep that tradition going, knowing that we have had guys coming in and being successful and playing at the next level. That is my goal and my dream."
As Wilson stood on the second floor of The Wynfrey Hotel after he completed his last interview at SEC Media Day, his mind drifted back as he reflected on how far he has come. "I never thought I would be here today," Wilson said to himself, still trying to put the day in perspective.
And no one could blame him for any doubts he had. From his humble beginnings growing up in Shreveport to the devastating losses of those close to him and the slow start to his Vanderbilt career, Wilson's rise to where he is today has not been easy.
"I've come such a long way. I've had my trials and tribulations but I've stayed focused and prayed about it," Wilson said. "My family has constantly supported me. I'm just blessed to be here."
Had it not been for the values instilled in him by his mother, he knows he very well may not be where he is now.
"I don't know if I was in her shoes if I could have done as good of a job as she did," Wilson said. "She took a little boy and raised me into the man that I am now.
"If I'm blessed to play at the next level, I am going to do everything I can to give it back to her. There is no way I will be able to pay her back for what she has done for me in my life, but I am going to do everything I can to show her how much she means."