ST. PETERSBURG – Walking into Pinellas Park High School, Dalon Wilson was a shy, unmotivated, young man full of apprehension about being a freshman. He was not in middle school anymore where he was the big man on campus.
His freshman season of football was eye-popping, if not alarming. The team started off with more than 150 players at practice, all trying out for a position on the junior varsity team. By the time the first game came around, the number was down to about 50. Many of the freshmen who played little league football found it difficult adjusting to the demands of high school sports.
Pinellas Park’s first game of the season against Gibbs High School went well for Dalon. He was excited about recording two big sacks. The rest of the year was much of the same, and he earned a spot on the varsity roster for his sophomore year.
“I worked hard all spring to make sure I secured a spot,” stated Dalon, adding that his mom transferred him to Lakewood High School where he could follow in the footsteps of other family members who graduated from “Hollywood High.”
“I had to make a decision that would be best for Dalon,” said his mom Michelle Mann. “I felt that he would benefit from more role models and not just football.”
Mann knew that the head football coach at Lakewood had an excellent reputation for working with African-American boys and challenging them to be prepared to go to the next level in life.
“I felt that this move was best for my child,” said Mann, adding that her fiancé, David Brown, was instrumental in Dalon’s athletic and academic success.
“My first day on the scene was summer football practice where I met Coach [Cory] Moore and his staff. He told me that ‘we love the grind over here at Lakewood.’”
The next few weeks before the season started were treacherous and gruesome for Dalon. There were times where he wanted to give up because he didn’t have any fight left in him; then came a defining moment in his life.
The morning of the first home game on the Spartans field, Dalon learned that he was not academically ineligible for the 2015-16 football year. Stunned! If he wanted to play the game he loved so much, he would have to improve his grades.
This was a life-changing experience and propelled Dalon to grind in the classroom during the spring.
“Once I became eligible, I instantly fell in love with the program at Lakewood. Everybody around me was my brother and felt like I could trust. It’s what Coach Moore expects from his players,” said Dalon.
He started his junior year off with big expectations and made first start on a varsity depth chart on the defensive line. Beast mode ready, Dalon remembered the big man on campus feeling of middle school. He was getting close to that level until reality set in.
“My first game starting was against the Jacksonville Bolles where I faced a 6’5, 300-pound tackle who buried me in the dirt first play of the game,” Dalon explained. “My coach pulled me the next play and told me: ‘Son, you have a lot of work to do!’”
Dalon worked hard in practice until he got another chance to play, which came four games later against Northeast High School. This time, he stayed on his feet and had five solo tackles, two sacks and one quarterback hurry. He had proven his point.
After football season, Dalon joined the wrestling team. It was his first year on the mat and was a learning experience. His record of 7-16 indicated that he had a long way to go to improve. His earlier life experience reminded him that hard work and practice could bring great success.
The summer of his senior season came around, and Dalon became a monster in the weight room. He worked hard to become a starter on the defensive line front and became one of the stars.
“During the season, I lost my jewel. “My grandma meant the most to me and was by my side every day,” said Dalon.
When he lost his grandma, he felt as if a piece of his body had been removed. He promised to make her smile as she watched over me.
“Without God helping me get through the loss of my grandma and keeping me strong, I would have walked away from the sport I love.”
The remaining of the year was excellent. Dalon finished as one of the top five county leaders in sacks and led the team in TFL (tackles for loss), QBH (quarterback hurries) and sacks. In wrestling, he was the top South County wrestler in his weight class, district champ and regional qualifier. Dalon ended the season with 34-11 record with 23 pins and four technical falls.
The son of Michelle Mann and Dwayne Wilson, Dalon is heading to Allen University in Columbia, S.C., on a scholarship. Coach Moore made such a significant impression on his life that he plans to become a high school football head coach.
If high school has taught Dalon anything, it was that with hard work and determination, there is nothing he can’t accomplish.