One professional athlete who doesn’t forget his roots

Published 8:40 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FILE PHOTO | DAILY NEWS Belhaven native, former ECU defensive end and current NFL free agent C.J. Wilson.

Belhaven native, former ECU defensive end and current NFL free agent C.J. Wilson.

The town of Belhaven has a modest, mom-and-pop, almost humble feel to it. With a population of less than two thousand people, covering just 1.5 square miles (two if you count the water), the chances of the next President of the United States or even the next big time movie star hailing from the north side of Beaufort County are slim.

But Belhaven has produced two starts — Little Eva, a spunky little pop singer whose song “The Loco-Motion” rocketed to the top of the U.S. charts in 1962, and C.J. Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 306-pound defensive end who tossed around offensive linemen like rag dolls at Northside High School before playing for East Carolina and eventually winning a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers.

Today, he’s honored with a sign, located just over the bridge into Belhaven, that reads “Home of C.J. Wilson, 2011 Super Bowl Champion.”

The town is certainly proud of its gridiron hero’s accomplishments through the years, but unlike many athletes who drive one way on the road to stardom, only to become immersed in the money and forget about their roots, Wilson never forgot. In fact, he frequents his hometown quite often in the offseason.

And on Saturday, April 4, he’s rallying the community for a fun-filled afternoon of games, prizes and local football legends, including Terrence Copper, Justin Hardy and Shane Carden. Out of his own pocket, Wilson, currently a NFL free agent, is putting his professional career aside for one afternoon to give back a little, offering free food, bouncy houses and more to the children of Beaufort County. There’s no catch here, it’s simply an athlete helping his hometown celebrate Easter a little early.

A Washington graduate, Copper, though he now lives in Greenville, is a regular in his community, always offering his services whenever he can, even if that just means showing up somewhere. It’s a tradition, one instilled by high school and college mentors, which will hopefully continue with Jimmy Williams, a former Pam Pack quarterback who is currently a senior and slot receiver at ECU.

People like Wilson and Copper are products of the environment in which they were raised, unquestionably. It’s an environment that may not produce the next President, but it’s one that has and continues to evoke the small-town, prideful, hospitable mindset.