Nothing has come easy for Reggie Wilson. He spent much of his youth in a refugee camp in Africa after being separated from his parents. He arrived in the United States at age 11 and had to adjust to a new way of life.
And despite being a Rivals Top 100 prospect coming out of Haltom, near Fort Worth in 2010, he has battled to get on the field at Texas with Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat.
"There's been times of frustration for him," said Haltom coach Scott Hafley, who remains close to Wilson. "But not because of playing time.
"I think Reggie has a good handle on the situation and the amount of talent at Texas. He knew it would be all about competition. I think his frustration is about not reaching the standard or goals for himself.
"I think he feels he should have been able to earn more playing time. But he looks at himself in that regard."
Hafley spent time with Wilson last week. In fact, Wilson surprised Hafley by showing up unannounced to the soccer game of one of Hafley's nephews. Hafley said Wilson has a renewed sense of excitement about the 2012 season.
"He's still excited to be a Longhorn and in the mix," Hafley said. "This spring, with Jeffcoat having surgery and being able to take a lot of reps, it was a chance to measure himself. He hopes the result will be a little more playing time.
"He knows from the first day of practice, he has to show he can be just as good or better than any other defensive end on the team to get on the field. And that's a challenge he's not afraid to tackle.
"Reggie knows this is his time - that as a junior, he has to show the coaches he can be trusted."
NO SHORTCUTS: The Wilson Longhorn teammates know is a boisterous, funny, energetic guy who has a smile for everyone.
But Reggie has already logged an uphill journey as the youngest of eight kids born to Catherine and Henry Wilson.
When Catherine was pregnant with Reggie, the family fled to the Ivory Coast from Liberia during a bloody civil war. Henry Wilson was a building contract in Liberia who went on to be hired by the United Nations to help construct refugee camps.
But Henry suffered a stroke when Reggie was in first grade. To get the best care, Henry needed to go to the United States. The family couldn't afford to take all the children, so Reggie and his siblings were placed in a refugee camp for the next five years.
The family would not be reunited in the United States until Reggie was in sixth grade. Reggie struggled in school as he tried to get used to get comfortable with English after speaking French in the Ivory Coast.
"He came to school early to grasp his subjects in English," Hafley said. "He could have taken one or two classes his senior year but retook math and science classes he struggled with and took second semester English 3 just to prepare for college."
ATHLETIC ABILITY: Hafley's first impression of Wilson came at a basketball game during Wilson's ninth grade year at Haltom.
"I watched him foul out of a basketball game his freshman year and thought, 'This guy is a beast,'" Hafley said. "The way he was hammering people, I couldn't wait to get him in pads and see how he would maul people on the football field."
Hafley said it didn't take long for Wilson to grasp the game of football. It was just a matter of channeling Wilson's athleticism and aggression.
"We just worked on his technique, and turned him loose," Hafley said. "As long as he was fundamentally sound, we were going to let his athleticism make plays for us."
One of the plays that stands out in Hafley's mind came in Reggie's sophomore season against Keller. Wilson was engaged by an offensive lineman when a running back dove at his knees. Wilson hurdled the back, got off the block and chased down the quarterback.
"I showed that play to every coach who ever recruited Reggie," Hafley said. "It was an unreal play."
Against Carrollton Newman Smith, which ran a stout, triple option running attack, Wilson's job was to blow up the fullback on every play.
"Reggie destroyed that kid," Hafley said. "We won that game in large part because of Reggie blowing up that part of the triple option."
At the end of his sophomore season, Reggie started getting recruiting letters. And Hafley remembers a visit from Texas defensive tackles coach Mike Tolleson after Tolleson had been to Keller.
"Coach Tolleson came in my office, sat down and said, 'We want the defensive end,'" Hafley said. "He had been to Keller, saw Reggie on film, and came straight over here and says, 'We want that guy.'"
MAKING A COMMITMENT: One of the funnier stories about Wilson came on the day he committed to Texas.
Wilson couldn't afford to take many unofficial visits. But he did go to Texas A&M and Oklahoma, then removed them from his list shortly after. He was down to TCU and Texas. And during spring break of his junior year, Wilson decided it was time for his brother, Archie, and mother to make an impromptu visit to Texas and possibly commit to Mack Brown.
The problem was, none of the coaches were on campus. It was spring break. The students were gone.
Wilson sent a text to Tolleson that he and his family were on the way to Austin so his mother and brother could see the campus. Tolleson called Hafley in a panic.
"I just got a text from Reggie saying he's on his way to Austin," Tolleson told Hafley. "But Coach Brown's not here. No one is here."
Hafley said Wilson was too far in his drive to turn back. Tolleson arranged to meet Wilson when he got to Austin and was prepared to give the Wilsons a tour of the campus himself when Catherine Wilson stopped everything.
She didn't care about the stadium, the weight room or the locker room.
"I want to know where my boy is going to live and who is going to help him with his academics," Catherine Wilson asked Tolleson.
Hafley said, "Catherine is short, sweet and to the point. If you ask her what she thinks, she's going to give you a straight answer."
After Tolleson answered those questions to her satisfaction, Reggie called Mack Brown while in Austin and committed.
FINISHING STRONG: Reggie saw action in 13 games last season with nine tackles, three pressures and two fumble recoveries. One of those fumble recoveries came against Cal in the Holiday Bowl.
Wilson is 6-3 and listed at 252 pounds. But Wilson told Hafley two weeks ago he's at 260 pounds now. With a solid burst off the line, Wilson's confidence is at an all-time high, according to Hafley, who added that Wilson knows he has to make a strong impression with the Texas coaches as soon as fall camp gets going.
"I think he understands his junior year is a very big year for him because he knows the coaches have to trust him to go in for Okafor or Jeffcoat and there's not going to be a dropoff," Hafley said. "They have to know they can trust him 100 percent of the time. That's the challenge the great athletes have to face.
"If they can't handle that level of competition and earn the trust of those coaches, they are not going to survive. He knows it's critical.
"When he came home a couple weeks ago, working out and running, he said, 'Coach, it's my job to make Coach Giles trust me. I know everything I need to know, so it's my job to make sure that happens.' The kid knows what he needs to do. He's at 260 and faster than when he got there."
Hafley said Wilson has never once thought of transferring and couldn't be happier with his choice to be in Austin. Now, he's driven to get on the field.
"Reggie has a huge heart, loves life, loves being a Longhorn," Hafley said. "He's set a lot of high goals for himself. He was a 17-year-old freshman in college who came to the U.S. from another country six years earlier.
"So to have been playing each year and not have that redshirt season to grow and catch up, there's something to be said for that. Now that he's catching up strength-wise, hopefully it will make a difference."