By: Mike Still (@mikestill94)
Feature photo: Noah Wilson in action against the Edmonton Wildcats during the opening game of the 2018 PFC season. Photo by Matthew Hamilton.
In chatting with Noah Wilson, it’s easy to understand why he’s a leader both on and off the football field.
“I like football because you can be any shape, size, skill level and there’s always a place for you on the team,” he says passionately. “I think that brotherhood you have, nothing comes close to it.”
Wilson first strapped on the pads in grade three when he lived in Regina. He then moved to Portage la Prairie and played there for a few years, as his dad is in the RCMP. Eventually he and his family ended up in Winnipeg, where the defensive end played from 2011-13 for the Vincent Massey Trojans.
Wilson noted that the guidance he received from Trojans head coach Kelsey McKay had a huge effect on the way he conducts himself.
“Kelsey was a huge mentor to me. He really taught me about leadership,” he says.
“He sat down with me and let me know that people will follow what I do, and that you have to be careful, because your reputation is what makes you in life. Kelsey is all about character with his players, and I think you can see that with anyone coming out of Massey.”
That leadership was evident in Wilson’s first year with the Trojans, where he was named a captain of the junior varsity squad as a grade 10. He finished the season with 40 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two safeties and a blocked kick and was also named the team’s defensive lineman of the year.
The following two seasons, Wilson continued to wreak havoc off the edge, garnering the interest of a few U SPORTS schools. But when asked about his time with the Trojans, the humble lineman referred back to the team element of the game.
“Really, I’m all about the boys and all the good memories I have aren’t really of winning games or anything like that, it’s more the experiences I had with the guys out there and the friendships I built that I still have to this day,” he says.
“I think that’s what football’s all about at the end of the day.”
When push came to shove, Wilson decided it was in his best interest to stay home in continuing his football journey. Current Bison football running backs coach/special teams coordinator Ryan Karhut had recruited him out of high school back when he was the head coach of the PFC’s Winnipeg Rifles in 2014 and it ended up being the best fit.
“I really liked the coaching staff at the time,” Wilson says. “I thought that rather than redshirting on a team, that I could get some playing time and get my feet under me.”
Wilson played in five games over the first two years of his junior football career. But a combination of injuries and a change at head coach in back-to-back years had an effect on him.
Then in 2016, an opportunity for a student leadership role at the University of Manitoba came up and Wilson took it.
“My friend Chance Paupanakis reached out to me one day. He knew I was a leader in football and he told me to come out and be director of finance for the University of Manitoba Indigenous Students’ Assocation [UMISA], and I thought that would be a great opportunity to help my university career,” says Wilson, whose father’s side of the family is First Nations.
“I was also finding a passion in Indigenous issues, so I thought if football wasn’t going to work out for a little bit, that I would at least have something at university that I could work towards.”
Wilson took the following two years off from football to get his body right, as well as dedicate himself to Indigenous issues on campus. A year after being the director of finance for UMISA, he was appointed as the male co-president.
One of the biggest achievements during Wilson’s time as co-president was the launch of the ReconciliACTION campaign, which urges post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.
“ReconciliACTION was a campaign that I was really trying to push through last year and it worked out great,” the Indigenous governance major says. “We passed a motion within the University of Manitoba Students Union [UMSU].
“Me and Chance are still working together closely to ensure language revitalization is a priority, not only at the University of Manitoba, but across the entire country. You need that sense of urgency, especially when saving languages in Canada. So far, we’ve had overwhelming support. It’s just about following through on the campaign now.”
This year, Wilson has maintained his focus on the strength and resilience of Indigenous people both on and off campus. But at the same time, he knew his heart was still on the football field. With 2018 being his last year of eligibility, he decided to return to the Rifles for one last ride.
“It was my last year of eligibility and I just had to come back,” he says.
“I didn’t leave the way I wanted to, and I was really down on myself. Football has been part of my life for the last 11-12 years, and I just couldn’t leave it the way I did. I liked the culture of the Rifles right now, and [Justin] Kasak’s a great defensive coordinator, so I decided to come back for my last year.”
So far, it’s appeared that Wilson made the right decision. He earned a starting spot on a vaunted Rifles front four that has quickly earned a reputation as one of the league’s best, with a combined 26 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions as a unit through four games.
“I feel like I’m ready this year,” Wilson says. “I’ve been taking care of my body and I’m not looking back, I’m only looking forward from now on.”