"The coach said it, and everybody believed it," fullback Rupert Grant said. "The whole season there was a feeling that we couldn't lose."
One crazy win fed into another, and by the end of the season, the school that had been listed only once before in 1-AA rankings was unbeaten and in the playoffs, traveling to Huntington, W.Va., to face defending champion Marshall University. A 28-14 loss to Marshall did nothing to stop the good feelings. Recruiting doors were opened. The questions that coaches had faced—like "What is Howard?" or even "Who is Howard?"—weren't asked so often. The school had a football identity to go with its academic identity.
"It's still work to attract kids here, but it can be done," Wilson says. "You get the kids who are recruited by Division I schools, the kids who ask things like 'Do you serve steak every day at the training table?' What I tell 'em is, 'No, we don't, but we serve an education that will allow you to buy steak every day for the rest of your life if you want.' I say, 'There's only one thing you're absolutely guaranteed as an athlete, and that's that sometime someone's going to take the ball away from you. That's going to happen, and what are you going to do then?" "
The 19 seniors, of course, are gone this season. Walker is with the New England Patriots, drafted in the seventh round. Changes will have to be made everywhere, but Grant is back at fullback and linebacker José White has pro scouts looking, and Wilson thinks this year's team will be good, the only question being how good. A freshman running back named Stephen Mosley, from Jacksonville, who chose Howard despite offers from Georgia Tech and Florida, will certainly help.
Wilson had a job interview at Duke during the winter but was never close to leaving. He wonders sometimes where he will land in the future but sometimes also wonders if he has landed exactly where he is supposed to be. He has daydreams about Howard. Suppose the school went Division 1-A...suppose it was the one black school on the 1-A grid, attracting the best black athletes in the country, a sort of black Notre Dame or Stanford rather than a black Harvard. How good would those teams be?
"Anything is possible," he says. "You just think about it, playing in a big conference...."
Eleven and 0. Whomp, there it is.