Former Florida Gators defensive back Isiah “Ike” Wilson IV did not want to make a big deal about his battle with cancer.
That’s why it came as such a surprise June 3 to many of those who knew him within the Central Florida high school football coaching community that Wilson had died after a seven-year bout with the disease.
“He was very optimistic and positive and just determined to live,” said his wife Amanda Wilson. “He didn’t want people feeling sorry for him. That’s just the type of man he was. I would often remind him that ‘People are empathetic and they care; it’s not that they feel sorry for you.’
“He just didn’t want people looking down and feeling sorry for him because he was very happy and had a very good life, aside from his struggles.”
Wilson, 40, who was the offensive coordinator for Dennis Thomas at the new Horizon High, was still coaching a week before his death.
“You couldn’t pull him off that field,” recalled fellow assistant and good friend Raoul Gomez, who coached with Wilson at Celebration and Lyman. “I talked to him a week before he died and said, ‘Man, why you still doing this?’ It was obvious he was struggling. He could hardly stand up and he didn’t talk very well. I don’t even know how he was still able to drive.
“It’s crazy. You don’t expect it and you don’t believe it. You still feel like he’s here. I knew he was sick, but you really saw it through the last month and that kind of hit me pretty hard, so I’ve been pretty emotional.”
Wilson’s wife said her husband’s troubles began in 2007 when he had stomach pains and decided to have it checked out. Doctors eventually found a tumor in his stomach and it was removed.
“He was pretty stable for a while after that. It was just one little tumor and no big deal,” Amanda said. “But then he started having issues again and he went through a lot of testing, but they couldn’t figure out why he was still sick.
“They finally figured it out, and realized that what was previously found in his stomach had metastasized and attached itself to his liver. That was 2014 when he was finally diagnosed with that and that’s what he had been dealing with since then.”
At one point, Wilson had 14 tumors removed from his liver in a procedure called a resection of the liver, but not all of the tumors found could be removed because of their location.
“He never went into remission or anything. He did every single treatment and it just continued to spread. There were times when he was stable, but everything continued to spread and spread until the very end.”
It’s been very difficult for Amanda and her two children — 10-year-old Isiah Wilson V and 12-year-old Amaiah Wilson.
“They’re struggling, doing the best they can, but, obviously, it’s not easy for them,” Amanda Wilson said. “We’ve had a lot of family around, so it’s helped keep them occupied, but they just randomly break down and cry throughout the day.
“Even for myself, different things trigger a memory and then my daughter is bawling in my arms. It’s definitely not easy.”
It was Gomez who introduced Wilson to Thomas when the head coach was looking for a defensive coordinator at Celebration in 2013.
“Gomez kept running into him here and there and I’m not really one to question fate,” Thomas said. “He told me I should talk to [Wilson] and I was like, ‘Nah, I won’t like him.’ I had a resume from him but I guess I had kind of ignored it. But Gomez just kept running into him and telling me I needed to meet him.”
Thomas finally decided to talk to Wilson and they bonded from the beginning.
“He told me recently, ‘Man, you introduced me to my best friend,’” Gomez said of Thomas. “Me and Dennis were good friends, too, and the three of us were just alike. We were in it for the kids and we all had this passion.”
Wilson, who played at Jacksonville’s Paxon High, was a walk-on defensive back at UF under legendary coach Steve Spurrier and, although he never lettered at UF, All-American Keiwan Ratliff remembered him.
“Yes I did,” Ratliff acknowledged Wednesday night via text when asked if he played with Wilson. “It’s sad, man. SMH [shaking my head].”
After graduating from UF, Wilson met Amanda while both were in graduate school at Troy University in Alabama. The two also, unknown to them at the time, worked for Florida’s Department of Children and Families.
“We worked in two completely different counties, so we didn’t know each other at work,” Amanda said. “When we realized we had the same job, we were like, when we had a project in class, ‘Oh, we have to be partners,’ because we understood each other’s crazy, hectic schedule.
“We partnered on our very first project in grad school and we were inseparable in all of our classes ever since.”
Wilson was easy to spot on the football field with his huge smile and trademark dreadlocked hair. His hair meant a great deal to him and when Wilson took a job as an assistant coach at Central Florida Christian Academy, the administration said it was school policy that he would have to cut his dreads.
Wilson refused and left his position after just two weeks. As it turned out, the only thing that could take away his dreadlocks was chemotherapy, and it wasn’t easy for him to take.
“It was a little gradual. A couple of years ago after radiation, his hair was falling out a bit, so he finally let go of the dreadlocks and had a short afro and was able to maintain that,” Amanda said. “But after his most recent chemo, which was December of 2020, that really took a big toll on him and he was actually completely bald.
“That, too, was shocking to our kids, seeing him change like that.”
It was tough for all those who knew him to see him go through the final weeks of his life not being able to be the man and the coach that everyone knew him as. Thomas said it was hard to gauge what everyone thought or knew about Wilson’s cancer. There was never a team meeting to inform the players or any real acknowledgment that the coach was even ill.
It’s the way Wilson wanted it. He was hired to coach and he lived up to that right through Horizon’s final spring practice May 27.
“He was going on as if he didn’t know anything else to do. He never gave up. He just kept going, man,” Thomas said. “Two weeks ago, he was coaching from his chair and he was out there. ... Even if you helped him do something, he would say, ‘Man, I coulda done that.’
“He was amazing.”
Wilson made a huge impression on both Gomez and Thomas with the way he cared about the players he coached and the passion he showed for the game. At CFCA, Wilson coached Gomez’s cousin, Alex Gomez, for two weeks but then left the job. But he still didn’t forget the kids.
“Every time I ran into him, he was always asking, ‘How’s Alex doing? How’s your nephew?’ " Gomez said. “It’s rough, man. I get emotional all the time when I’m thinking about it.
“He’s the most real person that I’ve ever met. ... I wish he had gotten his opportunity to be a head coach, the way he wanted to be. ... It’s tough.”
Thomas and Gomez talked about Wilson’s gradual decline near the end, but they came to one definite conclusion.
“We talked about how there was no way Dennis would be able to pull me off the field, and there’s no way I could pull him off the field, so you know that’s how Ike was. That’s why we loved coaching together so much,” Gomez said.
“But damn man, how was he driving from chemo straight to practice? It was insane, really. He couldn’t even stand up and could hardly talk, really.”
Gomez said he will never delete the final text message he received from Wilson.
“I just told him that I loved him and I told him again that I couldn’t believe he was still out there coaching,” Gomez said. “He sent back, ‘I gotta live great ... and right after that, he texted, ‘How’s Alex?’ "
Gomez then broke down. His voice trailed off and the tears started flowing.
Wilson’s funeral will be noon Saturday at Orlando’s New Covenant Baptist Church at 2210 S. Rio Grande. The family is asking that those in attendance wear white.