There’s not a lot that rattles Tennessee football legend Al Wilson.
The words “brain cancer” were definitely an exception.
A former linebacker and captain on the Volunteers’ 1998 national championship team, Wilson got the most terrifying news a parent could receive 10 years ago. His then 13-year-old son, Carrington, was diagnosed with Germinoma — a common form of brain cancer in children.
“It was devastating — it was a devastating feeling,” Wilson said. “But by the grace of God, he’s here and we’re able to celebrate life.”
On Friday, Wilson was in attendance at Barleys Taproom in downtown Maryville. He traveled from his home in Atlanta to speak at the annual Tailgating Against Cancer Golf Tournament event, which preceded the tournament slated for Saturday.
The event is a fundraiser for The University of Tennessee Cancer Institute for the Stephen Y. Coleman Fellowship of Oncology. Coleman — the institute’s namesake — lost his three-year battle with brain cancer in 2011. He was 37.
“I do a lot of these speaking engagements, and some of them involve cancer,” Wilson said. “Obviously, when that happens, that’s a situation where my ears kind of perk up a little bit because it’s something I can speak passionately about.”
The Wilson family recognized something was wrong when Carrington began having extreme headaches and tightness in his neck. Wilson said Carrington also felt inexplicably sore.
“We couldn’t quite pinpoint what the situation was,” Wilson said. “We’d take him to one doctor and they’d give us a diagnosis. We’d take him to another doctor, get a diagnosis. We finally found out what it was.”
A germinoma is a type of germ-cell tumor that may be benign or malignant. Carrington’s was the latter.
Through chemotherapy and radiation, Carrington overcame his cancer. He recently graduated from Trevecca Nazarene in Nashville, where he played baseball.
“My faith was strong, so that made a hell of a difference,” Wilson said. “It helped me be strong for him.”
Wilson also played football for the Denver Broncos from 1999 to 2006. Since retiring from the NFL, he has stayed busy investing in small businesses. He relished the opportunity to return to the Knoxville area to support a cause near to his heart.
“Anytime you get the chance to be around UT people, it’s always a good feeling,” Wilson said. “It’s always a big family.”