To fully comprehend the whirlwind that has become Roman Wilson’s life, please press “pause.”
At the front of that cloud of dust settling across football fields here and on the mainland is a 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver from Saint Louis School who created quite a stir among college football recruiters attending a recent combine in Oakland, Calif.
Wilson, 18, who was born on Maui and raised in Kihei, created an instant buzz at El Cerritos High School when he clocked a 40-meter time of 4.37 seconds. It was a moment he had been diligently preparing for in the days leading up to the May 10 showcase for high school football players.
According to Nike combine officials, Wilson is the third-fastest prep prospect this year to run a sub-4.40, and his time is the fastest 40 by anyone in his class of 2020.
“Since I was young, I never thought things were impossible,” Wilson said. “Growing up, I never thought I would be as good as I am right now. But my parents helped me to get the right training. Coach (David) Kamalani helped prepare me physically and to not be afraid to challenge myself.”
Wilson finished the day with the top rating of 124.59, a score that included his time in the 40-meter sprint, a 39-inch vertical jump and a 3.96-second shuttle run.
In between testing, Wilson won the fastest-man competition and continued to impress coaches during position drills and one-on-ones. He left with the distinction of being the top overall performer at any position.
Family all-in on success
Kamalani, a veteran Maui firefighter and Nike Combine Master Trainer who has coached some of Hawaii’s best college football prospects, came out of retirement four years ago to help Wilson reached his full potential.
It was Kamalani who suggested Wilson attend Saint Louis when he was an eighth grader at Lokelani Intermediate. Days later Roman was catching the bus with his dad, Jeff, every Sunday from the Honolulu airport to the Saint Louis campus in Kaimuki for workouts.
In the fall of his freshman year as a Crusader, Wilson stayed with a friend in Kapolei, waking up at 4 a.m. to catch the bus to school so he could be in class by 7:30 a.m.
When Saint Louis Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Michael Hogan Jr. learned of Wilson’s plight, he offered the student housing closer to school his sophomore year.
Eventually, Roman’s dad, a Hawaiian Airlines employee, was able to transfer to Honolulu to be with his son. Meanwhile, his mom, Colleen Colegrove, a special- education teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate, stayed on Maui, picking up odd jobs such as cleaning homes, making jewelry and babysitting to help pay for her son’s tuition at the private Catholic school, which is providing some financial aid.
“The bottom line is, you have to figure it out,” Colegrove said. “You make the sacrifice and you figure it out. You either want it or you don’t.”
It’s apparent the family wants it, and their dedication and commitment — plus Kamalani’s tutelage — are driving Wilson’s success.
“They have been all-in from the beginning,” said Kamalani, who pushes his athletes not only to develop their skills on the football field, but also their character.
“It’s more than just trying to help the kid establish himself athletically. You start to build the character of the individual, making sure that he is always being respectful and doing what is right.”
In Wilson’s case, “he’s done every single thing that I’ve asked him to do to a ‘T,’ religiously.”
Big schools calling
After Wilson consistently ran 4.3 seconds or better over 40 meters in his pre-combine workouts, Kamalani told him, “If you run a 4.3, your phone is going to blow up.” (Just the week before the Nike Combine in Oakland, Wilson won the Hawaii state high school 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds before anchoring the Crusaders’ 4×100 relay to a state-meet record time of 42.11 seconds.)
As predicted, word spread quickly of Wilson’s performance at the combine, and 72 hours later the offers he received from NCAA Division I schools more than doubled to 13. Wilson had been looking at the University of California at Berkeley, Arizona State, Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado and the University of Hawaii before Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA, Utah State, Washington and Wisconsin came calling.
Two months after a recruiting trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., with his parents, on July 22, he verbally committed to the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh. Wilson, who has a 3.8 GPA, made the announcement by tweeting a photo of himself wearing a Michigan uniform in his current No. 14.
“I think that’s the best place for me to go and get a lot of exposure,” he said. “My plan is to play in the NFL, and going against the best of the best from that conference week after week is what I need to be doing if I hope to reach the next level.”
Saints march on
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State first-team selection caught 30 passes for 744 yards and seven touchdowns last year as a junior. On Aug. 30, against national powerhouse Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Wilson caught three balls for 69 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to kick off the game’s scoring at Aloha Stadium. Saint Louis eventually won 31-19, extending its winning streak to 29 games.
With his Big Ten college debut waiting in the wings, Wilson’s immediate goal is to help the nationally ranked Crusaders claim its fourth consecutive state championship. Saint Louis quarterbacks/receivers coach Vinny Passas is excited to see the kind of impact Wilson will make this season.
“Roman has been a godsend to us; he’s exactly what our Crusader character model is,” Passas said. “He’s a genuine brother to all the younger student-athletes at Saint Louis, and they look up to him. After practice he hangs out and is always asking for more balls. He’s in the weight room every day trying to get stronger and faster.
“He’s the fastest,” he said. “I don’t think we have ever had a guy run faster than 4.3. … He has so much upside still, I can’t imagine what they are going to do for him when he gets to Michigan.”