Javon Wims’ journey to UGA is one for the books

Javon Wims, a wide receiver from Miami by way of Jacksonville, sits on a staircase behind his Williams Hall dormitory at Hinds Community College in Mississippi.

RAYMOND, Miss. – Nobody is more eager to get to Georgia than Javon Wims. Never mind the wildly circuitous route it has taken him to run down his football dream. Just from a life basics standpoint, UGA looks like a rich oasis compared to the desert through which Wims has been wandering these last few years.

And it is.

There are some jail cells that are bigger and less spartan than the dorm room Wims has been sharing with a teammate at Hinds Community College the last year. He’s been living in a 15-foot-by-10-foot rectangle with two twin beds and two desks crammed in the middle of white-painted cinderblock walls. The doorway to room 204D in Williams Hall is only about 76 inches high. This is evident because every time the 6-foot-4 Wims walks through, he has to duck so that his spiked-up hair can clear the threshold.

Wims shared this small dorm room with a Hinds Community College teammate for the past year. AJC / CHIP TOWERS

Such surroundings are just one reason Wims never wanted to leave UGA any time he went there for a visit. And he went there a lot. He has been to Athens three times since the calendar flipped to 2016, the last time on the weekend of the April 16th G-Day Game that came to be labeled “#93Kday.”

Each time Wims went, he was reminded not only that he soon will be playing home games in front of 93,000 people, but also that he’ll sleep in a two-bedroom, one-bath suite.

“I got a taste of the good life,” Wims, sitting on a metal stairway on the backside of his Hinds dormitory, said with a sincere laugh. ” I didn’t want to come back. At the same time, it was a good thing because I knew I wanted more of that. It reminded me that I have to handle business here.”

Wims did. After pushing it to the absolute brink academically, Wims passed all the classes he needed to become a junior college graduate and gain his transfer eligibility status at Georgia. He packed up his belongings at Hinds on Tuesday and made the nearly-10-hour-drive back to his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., with his father Roy and brother Jonathan, who drove out to pick him up.

Wims will arrive at Georgia the first week of June along with 14 other 2016 football signee and five preferred walkons. Behind him is a trail of overcome hurdles that would make Edwin Moses proud.

Making up for lost time

Nearly 6-foot-5, Wims had to duck to get through the doorway into his dorm room at Hinds. AJC / CHIP TOWERS

Motivation has been a precious commodity for Wims as he sought to escape his situation and circumstances, not just at Hinds, but in life. The truth is, this austere junior college located in the countryside west of Jackson, Miss., represented Wims’ saving grace. It is primarily the reason his football career was resurrected and why his skills finally got recognized by Georgia and just about every other major college program in the South.

That, and some parents who were determined to see their son lifted up to a better place.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wims will arrive at UGA in two weeks as the No. 3-rated, junior college wide receiver in the country. That just happens to be a position of great need for the Bulldogs, so they’re really glad to have him.

But going back a year before, Wims was completely unknown to Georgia, as he was to most everybody in the college football world. In fact, he was working at a clothing store in Jacksonville.

Wims had landed back home in North Florida with his father after a failed stint at Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss. Wims broke his ankle his first season at the Division III program, coached by former Valdosta State and Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, and he wasn’t exactly digging the experience before that.

Injured and disillusioned, Wims quit. He went home and was essentially given up for football dead.

Not only did the year off fade Wims into football oblivion, it also put him into a humongous hole academically. Because he played football and attended classes at Belhaven, Wims’ eligibility clock started ticking. With each passing semester, Wims was missing out on class hours that student-athletes have to complete to maintain eligibility.

So Wims had to work overtime at Hinds to catch up. He took five courses and all their respective final exams this spring semester, and then had to stick around for the May mini-semester to complete a required biology class and a lab. He needed every credit to qualify for admission as a junior college transfer.

And he got it.

“It’s been bittersweet,” Wims said while still in the throes of exams at Hinds. “If any athlete got to choose how they wanted it, they would’ve wanted to come out of high school and go straight to college and have all four of your years there. But the thing about me coming to junior college, I learned to appreciate it more. Even when I went on visits, I learned to appreciate those more. It’s kind of like being a fan and just soaking in the moment.”

It’s just these kinds of stories that Gene Murphy lives to see played out. The Eagles’ football coach and athletic director has been in the junior college game for 33 years.

“This is what community college/junior college athletics is all about, giving people second chances,” Murphy said, “Guys like Javon, maybe they started one place somewhere else and they end up here or they’re just trying to be recruited or re-recruited. They might’ve not qualified or they didn’t develop enough athletically or just didn’t have the right exposure. What community colleges like ours do, particularly in football, give them a chance to get some exposure.”

Hinds did its part, and Wims did his.

Never give up

If this thing pans out, if Wims goes to Georgia and makes an impact at wide receiver and ends up landing an NFL contract like everybody in his camp seems to think he can, his story will be told and re-told as the stuff of recruiting legend.

The fact that Wims is still playing football for books and board is borderline miraculous. Truly, though, it’s more of a testament to intestinal fortitude and dogged determination. Basically it comes down to a mother and father strongly believing in the abilities of their child and refusing to accept the it when they encountered people who believed differently.

First, a little background. Wims is from Miami Gardens, Fla. More specifically, he’s from the neighborhood of Carol City. Those familiar with the greater Miami area will recognize that particular location for having one of the highest crime rates in America, particularly for violent crimes and property crimes. In other words, a lot of killing and stealing.

That was the area in which Wims grew up. Fortunately, Javon and his family got out.

First his father left. Roy Wims Jr. moved to Jacksonville for work when Javon was still in grade school. Javon’s mother, Cleola Mosely, stayed behind with Javon and his older brother, Roy Wims III. The parents have been estranged ever since, but they remain very much in cahoots when it comes to their children.

Javon and his brothers always spent summers in Jacksonville with his father. When he was 16 years old, his mother moved to Ocala to take a job. Javon chose to move in with his dad, which all parties say always had been the eventual plan.

Javon ended up living in West Jacksonville and attending Ed White High School. There he made two decisions that ended up being critical to his story: One, he decided when he got there to give up playing football to concentrate on basketball; and, two, he decided to play football again his senior year.

The good news about Javon returning to the gridiron was he would be reintroduced to the sport that would eventually earn him college scholarships. The bad news was he didn’t know then that he’d be playing in a run-based, Wing-T offense. Basically, he became an un-glorified outside blocker.

“He was really enthused about it the first game because he scored the first touchdown,” Roy Wims remembers. “He thought, ‘OK, this is what’s going to happen.’ Then after that it went south from there.”

Getting virtually no passes thrown his way, Javon was ready to quit midway through the season. But basically his father wouldn’t let him. It was, after all, Dad’s idea that Javon should play football instead of basketball.

“I just did a little math with him,” Roy Wims said of that decision. “I said, ‘how many football contracts are there on a (professional) team compared to a basketball team?’ I told him, ‘I can go find a kid who’s 6-4, 6-5 who’s just as good as you or maybe better in basketball. But I asked him, ‘How many 6-5 guys are out there running routes that are as fast as you? You just have to set your priorities in the right direction.’”

Roy Wims wouldn’t let Javon give up on football when scholarships didn’t come falling out of the sky like raindrops. He knew from his own experience that it doesn’t pay to give up easily on one’s dreams.

Roy Wims was a hot-shot basketball prospect back in the day. But after short stints at Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial College, Roy Wims gave up his pursuit to go to work.

“I told him, ‘I gave it up because I was weak-minded,” Roy Wims said. “I said, ‘You don’t want to do what your dad did; you’re going to finish what you start.”

Pursuing scholarships

Without a solid scholarship offer coming their way, Roy Wims and his son went in pursuit of one. Quickly realizing there weren’t many junior colleges playing football in Florida, they sought the help of Roy’s cousin, Dante Thompson, who lived in Mississippi where there were lots of secondary football opportunities.

Initially, they chose Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss. The reason? That school was the only to offer any financial aid.

“We fished on that one,” Roy Wims says with a laugh. “We were just burning up the road going to different places. And I’m not a rich man. A lot of schools wanted him to pay for his first year and we couldn’t do that. I was telling them, ‘It’s going to be well worth it for you because my son can play.’ They only gave him a half-scholarship.”

Wims spent 2014 in football purgatory. While he didn’t play at all that year, his father again refused to let Javon give up his pursuit.

They went back to Mississippi and this time got in front of the coaches at Hinds. It was there that Wims was introduced to receivers coach Dwike Wilson. And that’s where the Wims’ fortunes began to turn around.

Wims had grown two inches since high school and had continued to train back in Jacksonville and stay fit playing pick-up basketball. Wilson liked what he saw immediately. Not only did he give Javon an opportunity at Hinds, but he personally oversaw his recruitment from then on. Wims moved to Raymond, Miss., in January of 2015.

One of the best pieces of advice Wilson gave him was to attend Georgia’s “Dawg Night” camp in Athens that summer. That’s when he caught the attention of the Bulldogs’ coaches.

“I showed a lot of promise there, a lot of potential,” Wims said. “I didn’t come out with an offer, but they showed a lot of interest. Bryan McClendon was the wide receivers’ coach at the time. He said if he was going to take a junior college kid he’d take me, but they didn’t know if they were going to be able to take one. He said they’d stay in touch and see how I did in junior college.”

Wims led the Eagles with 779 yards on 47 receptions and scored nine touchdowns in nine games. Shortly after the season, Wims had a scholarship offer from the Bulldogs. A dozen other schools across the South would follow suit.

Javon Wims reflects on the incredible journey he has taken to get from Miami Gardens, Fla., to Raymond, Miss., and now to Athens. AJC / CHIP TOWERS

Coming full circle

Wims finally got his scholarship offer from Georgia two weeks before Thanksgiving. He accepted it two days later.

Of course, no sooner had Wims started to feel like a member of the team than the team was blown up. Georgia coach Mark Richt was fired on Nov. 29th, the day after the Bulldogs’ final regular season game.

“I stayed committed,” Wims said. “For one, I wanted to see who was going to be coaching. When they told me it was going to be Kirby Smart. I did my homework and said, ‘That’s the perfect man for the job. Someone who played there.’ So I had no doubts. That’s why I always stayed committed.”

Wims stayed committed, but that doesn’t mean he never wavered. He did when he had the opportunity to realize a childhood dream.

Almost every kid who grows up in Miami dreams of one day playing for the Miami Hurricanes. Javon Wims was no exception.

Even before Smart was announced as Georgia’s coach, Richt was hired to coach at Miami. And not long after accepting the job, he offered Wims a Hurricanes’ football scholarship.

“Growing up in Miami, of course my favorite team was the Hurricanes,” Javon said. “So of course I was a fan and all that. I have a lot of love and respect for UM. And Coach Richt, he recruited me personally. It made me think but, at the same time, I had to make a business decision.”

As he had been every step of the way, Roy Wims was there to help his son figure this thing out.

“When Miami offered him a scholarship, I said to myself, ‘Oh, Lord, here we go,’” Roy Wims said. “I didn’t want him to go to Miami. We have a lot of relatives down there and I didn’t want him to be in that element. Too many people can see him there and put their hands on him. I wanted him to be somewhere he can concentrate.

“But I told him, ‘I’m not the one that’s got to do it. I don’t want you to go somewhere and be calling me back a month later saying, ‘Dad, I don’t like it here.’ All the decisions my kids make, I tell them they’ve got to make them on their own because they have to deal with it. That’s pretty much what he did.”

As it turns out, there ended up being a nice bit of symmetry at Georgia as well. James Coley will be Wims’ position coach with the Bulldogs. The Hurricanes’ former offensive coordinator is also a Miami native.

In fact, Coley and Wims go all the way back to those days in Carol City. Coley was coaching at the high school across the street from the elementary school Wims attended. It’s where the seeds for Wims’ football dreams were planted.

“My godmother coached cheerleaders and my godbrother played for him, played quarterback,” Wims said of Coley. “So every day after I got out of school, I’d walk over there to catch my godmother and go home with her. But I’d go out there and watch them every day at practice. I told him, ‘Little did you know that your next great receiver was out there watching you every day as a child.'”

No, Javon Wims is pretty certain this whole thing worked out the way it was supposed to. At Georgia, the Bulldogs are desperate for a seasoned receiver with good size and the speed to get downfield. Wims arrives with those attributes and two years of eligibility to show them what he’s got.

“It’s where I need to be,” Wims said of Georgia. “I’m 21 now. There’s no time to waste. I have to get on the field and I have to perform and help Georgia win some games.”

Next Generation is a series of profiles on the individuals who have signed on with the Georgia Bulldogs and will join the team this summer.

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