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Sticking to It: The Motivation Behind Wilkin Formby's Road to Alabama

The recent Crimson Tide commit's rise as a top recruit was fueled by a bit of early adversity.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A ragged piece of tape has been stuck to Wilkin Formby’s mirror for the past four years. The message it holds remains plastered in his mind.

Last week, Formby took center stage in a packed Northridge High School gym as friends and family waited anxiously before erupting into applause as he picked up an Alabama hat and announced his commitment to the hometown Crimson Tide.

Formby doesn’t look out of place as an elite college prospect. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound offensive tackle wears his weight well and is coming off a breakout junior season in which he helped lead Northridge to its second straight playoff appearance.

However, when the four-star prospect joins up with the Crimson Tide next January, he’ll be completing a journey that appeared improbable not too long ago.

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Sticking point

Each morning, Formby is met with a reminder of his humble climb to stardom. It comes in the form of a crinkled piece of masking tape showing the No. 6 which clings to the corner of his bathroom mirror.

Formby received the relic of his early athletic career during an eighth-grade basketball tryout. Despite making the team the previous year and towering over most kids his age, his hoops dreams were dealt a blow as his name wasn’t included in the final roster released days later.

To this day, Formby still recalls the way his heart sank while scanning the list of names and numbers looking for his own. In fact, he makes sure of it.

“The tape, it’s just a reminder of everyone’s first opinion of me,” Formby told BamaCentral. “No one thought I was this big-time guy. I mean it took a while for people to see what I saw. Ever since I was playing elementary school football I knew I was going to do this. I've always known no matter what anyone told me that this was gonna happen because I was gonna work hard.

“But not making the team, that’s what really paved the way. It showed me how to work hard. And I think that can separate me from some people who haven't had to dig down and figure that out, especially at such a young age.”

The setback didn’t cause Formby to immediately give up on basketball. In fact, he and his father even rounded up a group of other kids who didn’t make the team and started taking on anyone who would play them, from junior-varsity high school teams to church-league squads.

“I told him he had two choices,” Wilkin’s father Shannon recalled. “He could quit or he could put his nose down and get to work. That’s really a saying we have around our house, just put your nose down, get to work and don’t worry about the noise or the setbacks. We just stay focused and keep going down our path.”

A couple of other things to know about the Formbys: they don’t quit, and they don’t forget.

Following the snub, Shannon saw a switch flip in his son’s mind. Along with attaching his tryout number to his mirror, Wilkin also carried a new chip on his shoulder, taking on life with an extra set of purpose.

“It created a hunger and a spark within him that drove him to be the best version of Wilkin that he could be,” Shannon said. “It was one of those things where you just got to regroup, and he did. I think that moment was really a turning point for him.”

Wilkin Formby

Momentum gain

Looking back, Wilkin calls his failed tryout a blessing in disguise. Had he made the basketball team, his extended time on the court would have diverted his attention further away from football. Even worse, it could have caused him to miss out on the most transformative period of his young career.

Wilkin was introduced to Eric Grantham at the age of 13 when the local trainer helped develop his older sister, Mary Morgan, into a collegiate volleyball player. While Grantham, who runs Game Changers Performance Training in Tuscaloosa, played a role in Wilkin’s early athletic development, the two didn’t really start making strides until closer to the beginning of the lineman’s high school career. The turning point during that span came following Wilkin’s sophomore season in 2020.

Noticing a change in the lineman’s body, Grantham approached him and his parents about organizing a plan to capitalize on his growth.

“At that time his body was really working for me, and I could tell we were going to hit it at the right time,” Grantham explained. “If you can get an individual’s body where you can build it at the right time, you can see some major gains. I knew that was the case with Wilkin if we really worked on it.”

The duo did just that, often meeting twice a day on top of Wilkin’s football workouts at Northridge. Even then, the offensive lineman often found himself putting in extra work at home.

“I mean, it's, super tiring, but you just gotta turn around and do it the next day,” Wilkin said. “I'm super fortunate to be a guy that wants to workout and likes working out because I understand what it does for you. Working with Eric at a young age kind of showed me that and showed me how you’re supposed to be.”

By March of last year, Wilkin’s hard work had paid off as he bulked up 40 pounds to head into the summer at a solid 6-foot-7, 315 pounds.

Patience pays off

Wilkin’s days extended long after the final lift. Building his body was only half the equation.

Despite making notable gains in the weight room last spring, Wilkin entered the summer still much of an unknown on the recruiting trail. Texas State would eventually become his first collegiate offer that May, but the bigger schools the lineman was looking to impress had yet to bite.

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That didn’t stop him from continuing to throw out the line.

Following his time in the gym, Wilkin’s work continued when he returned home as he logged on to Twitter hoping to spread his name to college programs. While responses were scarce, that didn’t stop him from sliding into the DMs of just about every major assistant he could find.

“It didn’t matter if you were a special teams coach or just any coach, I was trying to get in contact with anyone I could,” Wilkin said with a laugh. “I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m this random guy in Tuscaloosa who barely played my sophomore year, please give me a chance.’

“It's not a very high success rate. You don’t have very many chances to get a response because you’re too young to be talking as far as NCAA rules. All you can do is hope they like the message and send you a camp invite.”

Those opportunities would arrive in the following months.

First up for Wilkin was the Gain Sports camp last February where he was able to meet up with offensive line coach Spencer Hodges, who had been training him remotely through Zoom over the previous few months. The in-person meeting allowed the two to further perfect Wilkin’s technique, setting hims up for a crucial camping season.

A May trip to Clemson gave Wilkin his first taste of college camps. While he performed well, it wasn’t until a month later at Ole Miss that he started to really turn heads.

The Rebels made their interest in Wilkin clear before his visit as five separate assistants sent him camp invitations. Upon arriving in Oxford, Miss., the offensive lineman didn’t disappoint, consistently winning rep after rep during drills while gaining even more attention from the staff.

“Coaches were talking to me the whole time and giving me attention that I hadn’t had before,” Wilkin recalled. “I remember I was just doing campus stuff and I was on one of my one-on-ones, and they like subbed me out for someone else.

“I’m just standing over there, and I feel someone tap on my shoulder. I turn around and it’s Lane Kiffin. It was just nuts. At that point, I had only been to one college camp, so I’d seen just one head coach. Later on, they ended up offering me. I never wanted to leave that visit.”

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Still carrying a chip

While Wilkin’s Ole Miss offer put him on the map, the majority of other top Power Five schools didn’t follow suit until the end of his junior season. Despite the lineman’s size and performance during camp, there was still some question over how that would translate into games.

“I remember working out with my strength coach, and word came back from a coach he knows that a program told him I didn’t have a chance,” Wilkin said. “They were like, ‘He’s too soft. There’s no way he’s going to play major college football. He won’t be able to do it.’”

Wilkin took that personally.

Over the next few months, the mammoth lineman took out his frustration on the field mowing down opposing defensive linemen from the right tackle position.

“He just flipped that switch,” said Grantham, who compared the lineman’s on-field transformation to Sylvester Stallone's character, Lincoln Hawk, from the 1987 movie Over the Top. “He’s normally a humble kid, but when push comes to shove and he gets out there on the field, he’s a totally different person.”

As the pancake blocks piled up, so did the offers. Florida State came calling in November followed by a slew of SEC programs as Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri and South Carolina extended offers the following month.

Then came the one he had been waiting on.

During an unofficial visit to Alabama this January, Wilkin finally received the nod from his hometown team as Nick Saban delivered the news to him in his office.

“I'm not gonna lie, when I heard him say I got the offer, I was like ‘Wow,’” Wilkin recalled. “I just turned to my dad, like ‘I just got offered by ’Bama. It was insane. It is impossible to describe that feeling. It was just amazing.”

Despite receiving the opportunity to play at IMG Academy this season, Wilkin elected to remain at Northridge where he will take over the left tackle position for the Jaguars during his senior year.

Remaining in Tuscaloosa will allow the lineman to continue working with Grantham, who has experience with Alabama’s conditioning program after serving as an assistant strength coach for the Crimson Tide from 2005-10. Grantham said his focus with Wilkin will be continuing to build his explosiveness off the line over the next few months in order to allow the lineman to hit the ground running when he joins the team as an early enrollee in January.

“The sky’s the limit for Wilkin,” Grantham said. “He’s one of the only high school kids I’ve said this about, but he has a chance to really reach his potential and be really special. He still has room to improve and a lot of growing to do in everything that he does. But he has the tangibles and the work ethic to reach wherever he wants to go.”

He also has the motivation.

“There’s always going to be that little voice that pushes him,” Grantham said. “With all the naysayers he had growing up, he’s never going to forget that. He’s always driving to get better and prove people wrong, and that’s what I expect him to do.”