Steve Wilt knew his son could coach from an early age.
When the former Taylor Head Football Coach was at Wingate University in North Carolina, his son, Chad, asked to be the team’s ball boy. Wilt said his son, who was about nine at the time, was allowed the opportunity on one condition — if he failed to pay attention he would be back on the bleachers with his mother.
“Well, to show he was paying attention, we were in the middle of a game,” Wilt said. “And I’m about to send the field goal unit in to kick a field goal, and he stands beside me and gets my attention — and I look down at him and he’s got this big football under his arm, and he says ‘Dad? Don’t you think it's time to kick a field goal?”
Now, Chad Wilt, who graduated from Taylor in 2000, is the Defensive Coordinator at Indiana University.
However, despite his dad’s story,Chad wasn’t always sure he wanted to coach, or even attend Taylor to play for his father.
In fact, it wasn’t until his junior year at Taylor that he knew he wanted to become a football coach.
Chad was working with a mentor through some discipleship and leadership opportunities, and realized that year that he knew whatever he did, he wanted to make a lasting impact on others lives.
As he searched for the way he would make an impact, Steve shared a letter he had received with him.
“It was from a young man (my dad) had coached years prior — the young man was an orphan,” Chad said. “And my dad had been able to recruit him and bring him up to play for him. Now, that young man was a father, a husband and teaching and coaching at his old high school and the letter was basically thanking my dad for his influence to help him become all of those things.”
“That’s when I realized what my dad really did.”
Since that moment, Chad has worked his way throughout collegiate football, helping out his father at Taylor for a season after he graduated before moving onto the University of Central Connecticut where he coached the defensive lines and special teams for three seasons. Other stops along the way included the University of Virginia, Liberty University, Maryland University, Army, Cincinnati and Minnesota. However, most of these were as a defensive line coach.
It was a goal of his to become a defensive coordinator, and when the opportunity presented itself in January, Chad jumped on it, and became a Big Ten coach.
“The good Lord has been directing him and he’s been blessed with some really neat coaching opportunities,” Steve said.
Chad wasn’t even sure he wanted to play for his father in college. During his senior year of High School at Eastbrook, he was receiving interest from a variety of Division II, Division III and Ivy League football programs. While he wasn’t an upper-end Division I recruit, the defensive end had suitors throughout college football.
He ultimately chose Taylor for one key reason: his family.
Chad’s mother and Steve’s wife, Diane, hadn’t missed a single one of her husband’s games in his coaching career. And she didn’t plan on changing that.
Steve and Diane said that they would support Chad wherever he went and do the best they could to be there for him — but as Chad put it — he wouldn’t see them outside the locker room after every game.
So, the choice to attend Taylor became an easy one, and the right one.
His first season playing for his father didn’t quite go as planned. The 1996 team went 1-9 and lost 56-0 in the season finale.
However, Chad’s fellow teammates — who also developed into lifelong friends — began turning things around for Taylor Football.
The 1997 team went 7-3, and an impressive 5-1 in conference. Which marked one of the biggest improvements in collegiate football for that season. It was sparked by a one-point win over Anderson University in the season opener.
“There used to be this huge rivalry with Anderson. We beat them at the end of the game my sophomore year,” Chad said. “That was kind of the impetus for the shift and turn in our program. Confidence to win and playing for each other. I remember being on the field afterwards and hugging my dad and so many of my teammates.”
The next two years resulted in something historic for Taylor football: consecutive NAIA playoff appearances and a combined 18-5 record.
While the success on the field was unprecedented at the time, and remains the most successful three-year stretch for Taylor football, both Wilts remember their time at Taylor for the relationships they formed.
“I think about Taylor itself and it’s those guys I played with, It’s the friends that I made from those teams and how they’ve continued to impact my life 20 years later and how they inspire me. ” Chad said. “It was truly a team and we played for each other. It’s those guys, they stood at my wedding with me and we’ll carry each other’s caskets some day.”
Chad still connects each summer with a group of his college teammates;they set aside a weekend to get together from all over the country and spend time together.
When Diane passed away in January, 10 of Chad’s teammates and Steve’s former players attended the Celebration of Life ceremony.
“It was amazing,” Steve said. “They just came to be together. There’s such a unity and bond that was created with those guys. What they did on campus, in sports, academics and in living for Christ.”
Which is what made this fall so special for both of them. After coaching at Taylor from 1994-2005 and setting numerous program records,Steve was inducted into the Taylor Athletics Hall of Fame.
Before Steve stepped onto the stage for his acceptance speech, Chad, through tears, introduced his father.
“It was emotional. My dad was the best man at my wedding because he’s the best man I know,” Chad said. “I just have the utmost respect for him. I admire him. I look up to him. I’ve told people before, I don’t want my kids to grow up like their father, I want them to grow up like their grandfather.”
Coaching brought Chad and Steve closer to each other. Chad called his father his best friend, but it was a friendship he wasn’t sure would have been the same if they weren’t able to constantly connect over coaching the sport they both loved.
Chad would bounce ideas off of his father, and vice-versa. One season, when Steve was at Olivet Nazarene University and Chad was coaching at Ball State, Steve’s staff got together with Chad and talked about some of the defense he was helping coach and how to implement it.
Now, even as Chad moves into coaching a Big Ten Defense and Steve steps out of coaching (he still coaches part-time for Saint Francis), they’ll still talk about coaching philosophy and ask each other for advice on how to handle situations.
“Now, he’s an adult and we’re at the point where we’re truly great friends,” Steve said. “You can’t believe the love we have in our family. For football, but more importantly for God and for each other.”