For SJ-O's Colvin, football is 'my getaway place'

For SJ-O's Colvin, football is 'my getaway place'

ST. JOSEPH — Dinner tonight, like a lot of nights, will be a big bowl of Ramen noodles.

"Quick and easy," Dwight Colvin says. "There's a lot of them in there, so I might as well eat them."

On this mid-September Wednesday night, 17-year-old Dwight is on his own at the two-bed, one-bath St. Joseph apartment unit he and 14-year-old sister Najsierra call home.

Dwight hasn't seen his mother — who now lives in Georgia — since he visited her in April. Their father, also named Dwight, works the 6 a.m.-to-3 p.m. shift at Gill Sports in Champaign "but whatever he's doing after work, I have no idea," his son says. "When he comes home, he comes home, and if he doesn't, he doesn't."

This is the life of one of the area's premier high school football players: a St. Joseph-Ogden senior running back with the kind of talent that has helped the Spartans compile a 4-1 record so far this season and makes Spartan football a can't-miss event for everyone in town.

That includes Colvin's dad, a fixture at every game this season.

"It's hard to pinpoint how our relationship is because it's constantly changing," Colvin said. "One day it's one way, the next day it's completely different. It's like a rollercoaster. You never really know what to expect."

Thriving on the field

Colvin's football talent is clear to see. The 5-foot-5, 160-pound senior is easy to spot on the field because of his small stature.

"I was the tall kid in my class up until sixth grade," Colvin said. "After that, everybody started shooting up. I have shoes from sixth grade that I can still fit into. Honestly, I don't really see my height as a detriment. Yeah, I'm shorter than everybody out there, but I still pack a punch with the height I do have."

Yes he does. His 858 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns are a big reason why SJ-O is already one win away from playoff eligibility, a year after the Spartans missed out on the postseason for the first time since 1990.

His speed is an asset, too, along with a quick change of direction and an ability to run over bigger defenders.

"For his size, he's strong," SJ-O coach Shawn Skinner said. "I've been blessed to be around some pretty good running backs. He's got as good a motor as I've ever seen."

Having a successful senior season is motivation enough for Colvin. But football affects Colvin more than just the gaudy stats he puts up each Friday night.

"I use football as my getaway place," Colvin said. "I'm always happy when I'm at football. Nobody can really bring me down when I'm playing football."

Adjusting to SJ-O

Football didn't come into Colvin's life until sixth grade.

"I was not involved in anything, and then I saw other kids playing football," Colvin said. "One of my friends convinced me to go out and play. The rest is history."

Colvin spent his childhood in Rantoul and then moved to Champaign after he completed fifth grade. He attended Franklin Middle School for three years and went to Centennial for his freshman year of high school before his parents divorced, Colvin said.

His father remarried a woman from St. Joseph, prompting another move and a new school for the young black man, Colvin said. Going from a school of roughly 1,400 students at Centennial, including a more diverse student body featuring 39.3 percent white students, 36 percent black, 11.4 percent Asian and 8.3 percent Hispanic, according to the Illinois school report card for Centennial from 2017, to SJ-O proved an adjustment. The high school in the rural Champaign County town of 4,000 residents featured 468 students last school year, with 92.3 percent of the student body white and only 1.3 percent black.

"I definitely knew what it was going to be like going in," Colvin said. "I knew there wasn't as much diversity here as at Centennial. I feel at home here. After a while, I don't even see color anymore."

Colvin is one of four senior boys up for this year's homecoming king at SJ-O, to be decided this upcoming week. The laughable, smiling and personable side of Colvin is present each and every school day.

"He's a positive person," Skinner said. "He brings a positive vibe and energy, whether it's in the classroom, in practice or in games. That goes a long way."

But he's not always like that. Which is why, when Skinner and a few of his assistant coaches saw a different demeanor from Colvin during practices last month, they asked what was going on. Colvin opened up to them on Sept. 6, a day before he helped SJ-O beat Bloomington Central Catholic 42-21.

"They definitely noticed that this year I was laughing when people were making mistakes at practice," Colvin said. "I wasn't acting like how I should have been. They talked to me about it. That's when I let them know what was going on with me."

On his own

According to Colvin, he, his dad and his sister moved to the apartment they call home now in north St. Joseph last December after his dad and stepmom split up. The family used to reside all under one roof in a house in east St. Joseph, Colvin said.

"I'm pretty much raising myself in a sense," Colvin said. "I've kind of been raising myself for a while now. Living with my stepmom a year ago, I would say life is definitely a lot different now."

He comes from a big family, with seven siblings and three step-siblings. Some of his siblings live in Champaign, Colvin said, and he added others live in Georgia.

"This is just the way me and my siblings are. Even with two parents in the house, there were some that went back to asking for help, but there were some of us that thought, 'We don't need anybody,'" Colvin said. "For lack of a better term, being a young black male or young black female, you kind of have to grow up with that mindset in society where you've got to go out and get something on your own."

For Colvin, that means doing his own laundry.

Making meals when he has to. Going grocery shopping when he has to.

Working the past two summers for a local roofing company to save up money.

"It was hard, hot work, but the pay was good," Colvin said. "I was up on roofs every single day. If I have a house that's small enough or a building that's small enough, I can pretty much put the roof on by myself. I know a lot of the ins and outs."

His close friends, though, don't know the ins and outs of Colvin's personal life and how it has changed, Colvin said. Outside of his coaches, Colvin had not opened up about his situation, even though he's on his own most nights.

"I'm not the type of kid that likes to be around a lot of people at one time," Colvin said. "I'm more the type that likes to chill with some close friends. I'm not the type to throw a raging party if my dad's not home."

Colvin said his dad supports his sister and him financially and helps out when he can. Emotionally, though, is another story, Colvin said.

"I see him almost every day, but he doesn't stay here every single night," said Colvin, sitting on the brown sectional couch that serves as the only piece of furniture in the apartment's family room. "Usually, I don't know when he'll come home. If he comes home, he'll come home. It's not a consistent thing."

A compact kitchen is in the apartment, complete with a stove, refrigerator and sink. Turn left out of the kitchen and a bedroom for his dad is a few feet away. Colvin shares his bedroom with his sister, with a bunk bed set up next to one wall.

"I don't want to say that nobody is going through the same things, but all my friends live in these big houses and drive nice cars," said Colvin, who doesn't have a car and rides a bike to and from school each day. "You know that you're built different than the kids you're associated with here. It gives you a different outlook on the way to look at things in life."

Future life lessons

Colvin struggles at times to describe the type of relationship he and his father currently have.

"That's a way to look at it is he's like a bigger brother to me," he said. "I don't see my dad as one of my friends. Yeah, he's my dad, but some of the things I know I can talk to him about and not have that authority level where if I say something wrong, he'll get mad. We have a different relationship than a typical father-son."

He's more succinct when it comes to his mother.

Does he reach out to his mother often?

"Not as much as I should," Colvin said.

Does she reach out to him much?

"Not as much as she should," Colvin said. "One of the tougher parts about this summer was me having to accept the fact that I didn't have a mother figure in my life. That was definitely hard."

Colvin leaves it at that, not wanting to open up more.

"I really don't like talking about it, but I know I can be strong about it in certain times," he said. "I know when I can talk about it versus when I need to shut down."

The events of the past year are going to stick with Colvin for the rest of his life, he admits.

"I definitely don't want anyone to feel the same way I'm feeling," he said. "I wouldn't wish that on my own worst enemy, the feelings I have sometimes. Sometimes, I'll be able to go to bed at 9 at night and shut everything off in my mind. Other times, I'm up until 3 a.m. just because of the fear of the unknown."

He emphatically points out on numerous occasions, though, that despite the current situation he finds himself in, he doesn't want "anybody to throw a pity party for me."

And if Colvin has children of his own one day, he knows how he wants to behave as a father.

"I don't want to have to my kids go through the same stuff," Colvin said. "I'm going to do my best to hand my kids everything because I feel like I was forced to be my own person at an early age. I didn't have a childhood like a lot of other kids have."

Staying positive

College is on Colvin's mind.

He's kicked around the idea of becoming a probation officer and is interested in attending McKendree, a private university in downstate Lebanon with a Division II football program.

"Hopefully I can play football there, but even if I can't, I really like the campus there," Colvin said. "It's a nice place to be. To me, if I get to play college football, that's a plus, but it's not one of those things where I have to play. If I do get the opportunity to play, I'll make the most out of it, but it's not my No. 1 priority right now."

After football season ends, whether it's with a deep postseason run that SJ-O is historically known for or not, Colvin is already thinking ahead. He played basketball his sophomore year at SJ-O but moved on to wrestling as a junior. At the moment, he's undecided how he'll spend his winter.

"I'm in between wrestling and getting a job," Colvin said. "I won't have this summer job, so I kind of need to have some source of income."

Decisions most adults have to make. But choices a young football star, more than a month away from the start of the high school football playoffs, is forced to contend with.

His coach, for one, is beyond proud of not only what Colvin is accomplishing on the field, but how he's producing while dealing with a broken home life.

"What he's doing is phenomenal," Skinner said. "I think football means everything to him. This is an example of the importance of our sport. This is a kid who, although his whole identity is not with football, it's a passion, and it's a place of solace for him. He has a family here, and he has success. It's an outlet for him, and it's a positive outlet for him."

Despite all the obstacles he's dealt with in his first 17 years, Colvin is optimistic about his future. It's just his nature.

"I'm still the same person," Colvin said. "I don't want this period of my life to define me. I just want to send a message to a lot of people that if you're going through a hard time right now, it's going to get better."

Quick hits

A few of Dwight Colvin's favorite things:

School subject: Math

NFL team: The Seahawks. Back when the Legion of Boom got put together, I started following them then, and then they won the Super Bowl. That's my team.

TV show: It would probably have to be, 'Last Chance U.' I just binge-watched the whole series.

Movie: 'Superbad.' That's a funny one.

Three people I'd like to have dinner with: Wiz Khalifa, Barry Sanders and Walter Payton.