BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — De’Runnya Wilson wanted to be great.
That’s how Cedric Lane remembers the former Wenonah High standout, a player he had known since he was in middle school. Lane coached him through some 200 high school basketball games before watching him sign a full-tuition scholarship to play football at Mississippi State University.
When Wilson came back to Birmingham’s west side a couple of years ago, Lane was disappointed–not because he had not gone to the NFL, but because he knew how hard he had worked to get out of his old neighborhood.
“That’s what drove him,” Lane said. “From the time he was in middle school, he knew he had to remove himself from that situation somehow.”
Wilson would eventually meet the same fate as some of the people he grew up around. On Jan. 21, he was fatally shot in his house on Northland Avenue. Lane, now the basketball coach at Carver High School, received word of Wilson’s death that afternoon.
“I think it was more disappointing and hurting than shocking,” Lane said. “I cared so much about that kid, and he wanted to be great, and he put so much time in wanting to be great and just to end up back home in that situation made me sad.”
Months later, there have still been no arrests in his murder.
“This case is still actively under investigation,” Sgt. Rodarius Mauldin told CBS 42. “As of now the leads gathered in this case [are] sensitive in nature and can’t be released.”
“ONE OF THE BEST“
To those who covered him, Wilson’s talent was matched only by his work ethic.
“He was one of the ones we knew we would see play pro ball,” Lane said.
The way Lane remembers it, Wilson had no choice but to work hard. Where he came from on the west side of town, he had known friends and classmates who took to the streets early on, either winding up in prison–or dead.
“Witnessing what he did growing up, he wanted to get away from that,” he said.
Wilson was an instrumental part of Wenonah’s basketball team, leading them to three state championships in a row. By 2013, Wilson was named Alabama Mr. Basketball and a Parade All-American. During his senior year, Wilson joined the football team, quickly establishing himself as a dominant receiver.
It wouldn’t take long before different colleges came knocking at his door. He ended up choosing Mississippi State. Jim Ellis, a longtime announcer for Mississippi State athletics, took note very early of what he could do on the field.
“He wasn’t a speedster, but he was a big, strong kid.” Ellis said. “He came up big in the ball games. He was the centerpiece as far as the receiving core.”
Nonetheless, Wilson was a favorite target of quarterback Dak Prescott for three years, catching 33 passes for 1,949 yards and 22 touchdowns. He even set school records in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
“To me, he goes down as one of top five or six receivers in school history,” Ellis said.
However, for as much of a presence as he was on the field, Ellis remembers Wilson as very reserved and quiet.
“In some ways, it looked like he was a little bit of a loner,” he said. “He didn’t seem to be the guy who was in the middle of the group much.”
However, it would seem Wilson’s life in football ended after his last year at MSU in 2015. An appearance in the NFL Scouting Combine the next year did little to advance his career . Outside of a workout with the Chicago Bears and a short stint in arena football, Wilson never played another down.
To Ellis, the hardship of life after sports is something all players go through.
“A lot of times when you’re an athlete, you set that goal and you think you’ll get there,” he said. “When it’s no longer there, you have to figure out what you’re going to do. A lot of them have an easier time of figuring that out as well. If they don’t, sometimes they get on a road they wish they weren’t on.”
Lane remembers talking to Wilson a month or two before he died. He remembers how, despite his appearance, he didn’t seem right.
“He didn’t seem like he had been in a good place,” Lane said. “Me knowing him so well, I felt like he was depressed.”
Lane said Wilson would probably have never admitted to it.
“He was such a strong kid and he was expected to be strong by so many people that in his mind, he couldn’t show any weakness,” he said. “You have to go out of your way to show that you’re good, but I don’t think he was good.”
However, Lane said that Wilson did seem optimistic about a potential tryout with the XFL that would have taken place later that spring. Looking back, Lane feels Wilson’s death affected more than just his family, but the community as a whole.
“He was one of the best two-sport athletes to ever come out of the state and the best to come from this community,” he said. “He had the chance to do things that were never done out here.”