Kearns • Keeven Wilson was a straight-F student in junior high, someone who’d had run-ins with police and a home life so unstable that he and his siblings were taken from their parents and placed in shelter care.
Wilson, a sophomore at Kearns High School, lives in a school district nested in one of Utah’s most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities. More than 65 percent of students live below the poverty line, and “a lot of these kids struggle,” said Granite Education Foundation Director Brent Severe.
But Wilson’s luck started to change after he sought out his former football coach, Marcus Wilson.
“When he was taken from his family, the president of our league called us and told us that he wanted to talk to me more than anything,” Marcus Wilson said. “And so he called, talked to us, and then eventually he started coming over to our house. And finally we were just like, ‘We’re going to adopt you.’ ”
“I don’t think we ever even talked about it,” added Jessica Wilson, Keeven’s adoptive mother. “That’s what needed to be done.”
Since moving in with the couple and their five other kids, Keeven Wilson has gone from rarely attending school to earning a spot on the academic honor roll with a 3.5 GPA. He also works part time and finds time to play football.
In recognition of the “huge obstacles that he’s overcome,” Granite School District recognized Keeven Wilson with its Absolutely Incredible Kid award Tuesday morning at an assembly at Kearns High School.
The school district has given the award to one of its roughly 68,000 students across 90 schools every year since 2013. Alongside the recognition, Wilson received gifts from community sponsors, including a new laptop and backpack, a fitness membership, three sideline tickets to a University of Utah football game and a $1,000 scholarship.
“Dealing with the law, those types of things, and then turning his grades around and then wanting to be an example to his younger siblings of overcoming those challenges kind of set him apart from other candidates,” said Severe, who helped choose the winner and noted that several community members had nominated Keeven Wilson.
Wilson, who said he had no idea he’d be receiving the award, didn’t think the changes in his home life had contributed to improving his grades.
“It was all me,” he said. “It wasn’t really hard to turn my grades around — it was just a sense of urgency that if you don’t do it, it’s going to affect your future. And I’m responsible for my future.”
Wilson said his goal for the rest of high school is to earn a 4.0 GPA. Eventually, he plans to attend college, where he hopes to play football and possibly study psychology.
Tyler Garcia, assistant football coach at Kearns, said he thinks the shift in Wilson’s outlook grew out of greater stability at home.
“His work ethic changed a lot,” Garcia said. “For the lack of better terms, he stopped looking at his situation as a negative thing and looked at it as an opportunity to grow and be stronger.”
Garcia recalled how he left a six-figure salary in the private sector to become a teacher.
“And I did that because of things like this — to help kids change the cycle,” he said. And although Wilson is “a pretty humble guy,” Garcia said he hopes the student will continue to share his experience and accomplishments.
“There’s a lot of kids not only in this community but the surrounding communities that I think would benefit from hearing his story and how he succeeded,” Garcia said. “I mean, he’s fallen. Certainly fallen. But he’s gotten himself back up.”
Keeven Wilson’s two younger siblings were adopted by another family who Jessica Wilson said has become an extension of their own. For Keeven, she said having more structure and a “normal family” home has made all the difference.
“I just feel like we did what anyone would do,” said Jessica Wilson. “Living in this community, there’s a lot of people in Keeven’s situation, honestly. I see it because [Marcus Wilson] coaches football. And there’s lots of kids that have come through that we’re like ‘God, I wish we could help that kid. I wish we could help that kid.’ And there was one that we were actually able to help.”