June 18, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Kentrina Wilson doesn’t mind being called “a Diva.”
In fact, it’s something she’s quite proud of.
Wilson, who will turn 30 in December, is a wide receiver for the D.C. Divas, one of 34 teams in the Women’s Football Association, a professional tackle football league that was founded in 2009.
It’s a relatively new pursuit for Wilson, who is better known in Georgia Tech circles for playing basketball, which she did from 2004 through 2007, but just finished her third year playing pro football and first season in the WFA. It’s serious stuff and a lot more legit than the kind of football most people envision when hearing women’s pro football.
“If I ever say, ‘I play football,’ the first thing people ask is, ‘Lingerie football?’ I’m like, ‘Nooooo.’” she said. “It’s definitely full pads, all tackle, outside, 11-on-11 football.
“Honestly a lot of people don’t know about it but it is nationwide,” she added. “They even have a couple of teams up in Canada and, honestly, I can say it’s worldwide. The D.C. Divas are a very established team. When you say you play for the D.C. Divas they know who you play for. It surprises me how much they know about women’s football up here.”
Wilson never imagined she’d be playing football, never mind playing professionally, when she was a student on The Flats. She came to Atlanta as a highly touted forward who was a two-time finalist for Florida Ms. Basketball and, in 2003 as a senior at Deerfield Beach High School earned first-team 6A All-State honors after leading her team to is first 6A State championship.
She played four years with the Jackets, but was hit hard by injuries, as she tore her right ACL as a freshman, her left ACL as a sophomore then broke her right hand late in her senior season. When she played, however, she was a versatile player who could play all five positions and became a valuable defender as a defensive-minded rookie head coach MaChelle Joseph, who took over the same year Wilson came in, established her program.
In Wilson’s senior season, Tech went 21-12 on the season, beginning a streak of six consecutive 20-win seasons. Even through the program’s growing pains of her first three seasons (the Jackets finished all three one game under .500), Wilson knew great things were ahead for the Joseph-led Jackets.
“We were there on a mission. We started it,” she said. “Coach Jo’s a great recruiter, she’s a great coach, and to keep that going, that says a lot about her.”
Following graduation, Wilson became a coach at Penn State Brandywine. It was there that she’d find her love of football. It would change her life.
“I never thought about playing until I went to one of the games and fell in love with it and it was history from there,” she said. “One of the girls that I coached, she got me to come out to a practice and I tried it out and I loved it.”
That instant devotion to football led some to question her sanity.
“My mom probably thought I was going through a mid-life crisis,” she recalled, with a laugh. “At that time, when I started [playing football], I had just bought a motorcycle and she was like, ‘Oh my God. What are you thinking?’ Then, a few months later I was like, ‘I want to play football.’”
Her mom’s come around.
“At this point, she sees that I love it, I’m successful at it and she just praises everything that I do,” she said. “She watches my football games online when they stream them online. She’s been my biggest supporter.”
That fan base is growing rapidly, especially in D.C.
After playing in a smaller league in Philadelphia for two seasons, she got wind of the D.C. Divas, who won their league record 11th division title in 2014.
From there her competitive fires kicked in.
“I just kept hearing ‘D.C. Divas, they’re like the top three teams in the nation,’” she said. “I wanted to see if I could make the team, because they have like a 70-people-deep roster, and if I could actually play and compete at that level. It’s similar to going to college and playing D-3. You know you can go and dominate but if you go D-I, are you really going to play? I came up here and tried out for the team and made it. I didn’t expect to do this well in my first season.”
Wilson was one of the league’s most explosive threats, leading the league with nine touchdown receptions with a 20.8 yards per catch average — 315 yards, 13th in the league, on 15 receptions.
(Check out this touchdown play, where she put her basketball skills to work, going behind her back to avoid a defender’s strip attempt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWm1XKVptic.).
But excelling in the WFA hasn’t been nearly as easy as she’s made it look.
“I have been shocked at the competition that we’ve played,” she said. “I’ve learned so much in this one year. I never played football a day in my life until I started a couple of years ago. It’s a lot to learn.”
These days, life is good for Wilson, who lives in the Maryland area, with wife Sierra Madison-Wilson, who also has basketball roots (Wilson said she’s been close but unsuccessful to in attempts to get her spouse to play). She pays the bills by working as a dispatcher for Schneider truckload and transportation services, a necessity, as football not only doesn’t pay the bills, but costs her as she pays to play.
She still fondly recalls her days on The Flats and said she’ll miss watching the Jackets face off with Maryland, which is off to the Big Ten.
“I miss it every day,” said Wilson. “Honestly, the whole four years there, it was an experience. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned from it, from coaching to staying disciplined in class.
“It’s helped me in my work career,” she added. “Being in shape and continuing, everything I’ve learned, weight training, how to eat right, just little things to keep my body in shape. It definitely helps because as I get older it’s harder to recover. After a game on Saturday I’m probably not able to walk until Tuesday.”
She’d relish the opportunity to one day pass on her experiences to the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team.
“Oh, yeah. Anytime I’m ever in Atlanta and I can make it to a game and just talk to the girls I would love to,” she said. “That, honestly, would be amazing. Just to know this is where we started. You see where they are and tell them about the road to get there.”
Wilson and the Divas are on the road that they hope leads to a berth in the 2014 WFA Alliance Bowl, to be played on Aug. 2, in Chicago’s Lane Stadium. The Divas won the National Conference’s Northeast Region Mid-Atlantic Division with a 4-3 mark and host division rival Columbus Saturday at Falls Church High School in Northern Virginia. Should they win, they’ll advance to the third round of the five-round playoffs and take on their nemesis, the 7-0 Boston Militia. Boston beat them twice in 2014 — 36-32 in the season opener then 29-28 on June 7 in the season finale. Wilson hopes the Divas get the chance to reverse this Boston curse.
“D.C. has played them 51 times and has only beaten them one time,” she said. “They’re another powerhouse. If we can beat them I would be a happy person.”
Follow Wilson and the Divas at http://dcdivas.com/.
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