Walk down the sideline of a Killeen football game on a chilly Friday night and somewhere in the sea of maroon and white you’ll find head athletic trainer Al “Doc” Wilson bundled up in his maroon hoodie and gray Killeen letterman jacket watching the game unfold.
Even at 78 years old, Doc still walks up and down the sidelines following the action just as he has done the past 57 years of his career.
If you lose sight of Wilson among the sea of tall players, you most likely will find him at the training table checking on a player. He focuses in and listens as the player points at where the pain is coming from, Doc nods and asks the necessary questions to properly treat his player.
Wilson was a student trainer at Hamilton High School, where he first learned to tape up football players. He continued as a student trainer while attending Howard Payne College (now Howard Payne University).
After graduating, Wilson interviewed with legendary coach Leo Buckley for a position at Killeen High School.
“They wanted an athletic trainer,” Wilson said. “I came here in 1961 and I never left.”
One of Wilson’s first job duties included coaching the seventh-grade football team, which practiced on the same field as Killeen High where he was also the athletic trainer.
Leo Buckley told Wilson that at the beginning of the new year he would change his title to full-time athletic trainer. At the time there were about five high school trainers in the whole state of Texas, Wilson said.
“I’d already been told whatever Leo Buckley tells you, you can go to the bank on it because that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
Wilson was the first athletic trainer in Central Texas and took care of other teams when their players got hurt during games.
Wilson has been a witness to Killeen history, both the good and the bad.
If you ask Wilson to recount the 1991 state championship, he won’t just tell you about the game but the significance it had on the city of Killeen.
On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-October, Wilson recounts, a Ford Ranger pickup plowed into a plate glass window at Luby’s Cafeteria before the driver opened fire, killing 23 people.
At the time, the Luby’s massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
On the football field, Killeen lost its first two district games before star running back Dion Marion sprained his ankle.
Although Wilson taped him up, his ankle wasn’t improving.
Wilson then took Marion to a sports medicine clinic held every Saturday morning in Temple during football season to have his ankle looked at by Dr. Bill Hamilton.
It was Wilson who decided to put Marion in a cast for 10 days.
The team started to win and ended up making it to the playoffs.
Wilson recounts the game while sitting on a bench in his office but if you close your eyes and listen closely, with all the details he remembers, you’d swear you were there watching as it happened.
In the second round of the playoffs, Killeen faced Jersey Village, the No. 4 team in the state, at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field.
“We were literally punting it at the back of our end zone, into the wind, and we were ahead 21-19,” Wilson said.
With 10 seconds left in the game and the strong winds still blowing, Wilson thought the team was going to lose since Jersey Village had the opportunity to get the ball and kick a field goal that would have put them ahead 22-21.
“Now listen to this,” Wilson said. “The ball goes up. The ball comes down. The ball bounces, the ball bounces and the clock runs out.
“Nobody touched it.”
Killeen won that night 21-19.
Back in the locker room Wilson’s two sons, Andy and Jerry, yell out, “Daddy, daddy! We got one hurt; we got one down in here!”
“That’s when I got put in the shower by my own family,” Doc said as Andy sat in his father’s office chuckling at the memory.
“He and his brother,” Doc said pointing at Andy, “… threw me into the shower!”
Killeen then went on to beat Tyler Lee at Kyle Field before facing San Angelo Central in the semifinals.
“By now, everybody in the whole area was behind us,” he said, “because we were bringing people together.”
When it came time to travel to Houston to play the state championship at the Astrodome, the only indoor facility in Texas at the time, Doc made all the arrangements.
The team was getting ready to leave Monday morning.
The school had a fire drill scheduled for 9 a.m., bringing out the entire student body to line the street as the team was escorted out of town.
Andy, who was a trainer over at Copperas Cove, had been helping Doc with all the playoff games but couldn’t make it to the state championship due to a freshman basketball tournament.
Killeen defeated Sugar Land Dulles 14-10.
The team was escorted home by deputy sheriff cars from the Bell County line.
“When we pulled back up here, there was at least 500 people waiting for us,” Doc said.
Andy is now an athletic trainer at Harker Heights but started as a student-trainer under Doc at Killeen.
The family business is more than just blood family.
In fact, many of those included in Doc’s family attended the Harker Heights-Killeen football game Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Tony Dunn, former athletic trainer at Ellison and one of Doc’s first student-trainers when he was hired, was back on the sidelines with him Friday night.
Dunn is family to Doc, considering Doc was the best man at his wedding.
“He taught me how to tape,” Dunn said. “He taught me to be an athletic trainer, and it was a whole lot more to our job description when we first started.”
One former student-trainer of Doc’s, Alisha Ridley, came all the way from Oklahoma to be with Doc for his last football game.
Brittney Thompson, nee Smith, a former student-trainer of Doc’s, stopped by to see him before Friday’s game and summed up her feelings by saying, “He’s family.”
As family, Doc put her to work before the game, having Thompson assist her in taping up some of his players before they went on the field.
Many of his former students stood on the sidelines during the first half of the game remembering their time on the field with Doc and wanting to help out.
As stories were shared, Doc’s love of Killeen was evident as some students remembered his phone number.
“I can’t remember the beginning of the number,” Ridley said, “but I do remember the last four digits of his landline spells ‘Roos.’”
Final Friday night lights
Last week, Doc informed the coaches of Killeen that as of June 1 he would be retiring as the head athletic trainer.
Many former colleagues, students, friends and family gathered together Friday night to honor Doc at what was his last football game working as a trainer.
At the end of halftime, in true Roo fashion, Doc sat in the middle of the field surrounded by his loved ones as Killeen took the time to honor him.
As video messages played from friends and colleagues, Doc was emotional, seeing the love and support from the school he’s given 57 years to.
And then Doc’s grandson Zane, who is currently stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado serving in the Army, appeared on screen with a special message before someone handed Doc a phone with Zane on FaceTime.
“The fact that my grandson couldn’t be here,” Doc said, “but when they got him on the board, that made the world, it really did.”
The student-trainers from both Harker Heights and Killeen presented Doc with a special gift. Andy had gotten Doc’s first sideline trunk that he carried tape in refurbished.
“All these people that have come back, they mean the world to me,” he said.
“It makes you feel good that so many people love him,” Doc’s wife, Gail Wilson, said.
A true Roo
An icon is defined as a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something. Doc will tell you he’s no icon but that’s just not true, even with the walkway from the training room to the field being dedicated in his name.
Doc isn’t just well-known in Killeen but across the nation. Whenever Andy goes to athletic training conventions the first question is usually, “How’s your dad doing?”
His family will tell you about their trip to Disney World — somewhere people travel from all over the world to visit— and how four different people recognized him at the park.
“Are you Doc from Killeen, Texas?”
Last year the Wilsons took a family road trip to Baltimore, stopping at a gas station in Augusta, Georgia.
Doc went in to the gas station and came out awhile later with a girl holding her hand. It was a former student who played volleyball for Killeen who recognized him by the maroon Kangaroo who he wanted to introduce to his family.
Although Doc will retire at the end of the school year, he’s proof that the saying is true, “Once a Roo, always a Roo.”