Football is completely changing the lives of this young man with Asperger's Syndrome and his family for the better

Miracles elevate Salem Hills Skyhawks on and off the field

By Amberli Nelson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 10:05 a.m. MDT

Sabin Wilson (79) along with three of his defensive linemen at practice Monday afternoon at Salem Hills.

Monica G. Gibb

SALEM — Over the years, Jill Wilson has heard a lot of shocking things from her son, Sabin, but nothing could have prepared her for what came tumbling out of his mouth last spring:

“Mom, I want to go out for the football team.”

She recalls that moment with perfect clarity because Sabin is a kid who hardly ever left the house, never made new friends and was perfectly content to play video games all night and day, rarely leaving the couch. He hated school and the routine that went with it.

Things finally escalated to the point that Jill had to cancel Sabin's first-period class altogether because of his refusal to get out of bed. So when he declared his desire to play on the football team — something he hadn't done before — she couldn’t have been more surprised.

As much as the logistical aspects of Sabin playing a team sport worried her, such as the daily routine and rigorous schedules, there was another aspect of his intent to play that flat-out confused her.

Doctors told Jill that due to her adopted son condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome, he would “probably never play organized sports because he would not understand the competition aspect," she recounted.

Well, that’s news to Sabin. It’s very evident in his rapid rise through the JV ranks of the Salem Hills Skyhawk football that he understands competition just fine. He's understanding it so much so, in fact, that he starts on the junior varsity squad and, according to Salem Hills head coach Joel Higginson, Sabin is competing for a spot on varsity.

Pretty remarkable considering it’s been just five short months of playing a game he’s never known with kids he’d never spoken to before last summer.

To look at him, it’s plain to see Sabin has an athletic body with a strong physique and is brimming with potential. While that definitely works in his favor in the athletic arena, it belies years of tremendous internal struggles that have all but paralyzed him for most of his young life, making his recent transformation nothing short of miraculous.

“All I can say is that since Sabin became a member this football team, he has been a new man,“ Jill said. “Every day he continues to blossom and unfold in ways we never thought possible. He’s doing, saying and feeling things we were told he never would.”

Things that come easy to most people, such as making new friends, remembering dates, details and schedules, and even going on a date to the homecoming dance have all happened for the first time in Sabin’s life since he found football. The boys on the team have rallied around and befriended him in ways that continue to humble and astonish his grateful mother.

Fondly, she recalls picking him up from summer two-a-day practices. One of the players said goodbye to Sabin and that he would see him later that night. Jill asked Sabin who the kid was and to Jill’s utter shock he said, “Oh, that’s my new friend, Ammon.”

“Realize,” said Jill, “that’s the first time Sabin had ever labeled another kid as his new friend.”

Along with making new friends, he is also getting out of bed every morning, which is another first.

According to Jill, Sabin is quite adamant about being to the gym by 6 a.m. for his daily weightlifting workouts with his new-found football buddies. Mom couldn’t be happier about it.

“This team has saved my son. For that, I would gladly pick up that big strapping boy of mine, throw him over my shoulder and walk the three miles from our house to the school every morning — in my nightgown — if I had to, just for him to be a part of this team that he has come to love," Jill said.