When Kevin Fountaine heard the Giants gave Isaiah Wilson his next (and maybe last) shot in the NFL, he felt optimistic.
Not because they lack a long-term answer at right tackle. Nothing to do with on-field opportunities and everything to do with Wilson – who was mixed up with drugs and arrested on a DUI after a high-speed police chase as an NFL rookie – returning close to his roots as a Brooklyn native who became a five-star recruit under Fountaine’s coaching at Poly Prep.
Professional athlete homecomings often present a fork in the road: A support system fills a void that leads to a turnaround, or old connections resurface from the woodwork to be around fame and money, create distractions and set the path to self-destruction.
“With the support of mom and everybody close by, I think it’s a better fit for him than when he was on his own,” Fountaine told The Post. “His mom always pushed the education – that’s why he stayed at Poly – and he really respects his mom and loves his mom.”
Sharese Wilson did not return multiple messages left in the last week, but she told The Post before the Titans drafted her son with a first-round pick in April 2020 that Isaiah “is the quintessential poster child for goals. He had it in his mind this is what he wanted to do.”
Wilson was cut by the Dolphins only three days after he was acquired in a buy-low trade from the Titans. It was telling because Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is a Poly graduate, and Dolphins strength and conditioning assistant coach Jimmy Mangiero’s father, Dino, was a football coach at Poly early in Wilson’s career.
The Giants signed Wilson to the practice squad last week, though it is clear that he needs conditioning to get within range of his listed 330 pounds. Andrew Thomas – Wilson’s teammate at Georgia – is the Giants’ left tackle. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer was Penn State’s lead recruiter on Wilson.
“He texted me the other day and told me, ‘I’m going to help get your boy right,’” Fountaine said.
Where has Wilson, 22, been since March? Not on a 90-man roster during OTAs or training camp.
Fountaine said Wilson came home to his mother, a healthcare professional, and his father, a construction worker. He was spotted around his younger brother’s athletic events at another local high school in the spring. After falling out of touch following Wilson’s DUI charge, Foutaine and Wilson are exchanging messages again.
“It was really shocking the way the wheels unraveled,” Fountaine said. “Like I told him, ‘That’s why there are erasers on pencils. This is your second chance.’ So, I’m hoping he does what he has to do.”
Fountaine, who invested the extra time in Wilson to take him to football camps, doesn’t know how to explain the sudden spiral. In high school? Maybe he needed some “tough love,” but otherwise …
“He was the perfect gentleman,” Fountaine said. “He handled the hype of being a five-star really well. He wanted to unveil he was going to Georgia at Poly’s Christmas assembly so he could do it in front of all his classmates and the school. Never had an ounce of problem there.”
Fountaine maintained relationships with Wilson’s college coaches and says he never heard one word of trouble. NFL security teams performing due diligence called before the 2020 NFL Draft, and “they all said he was clean and no red flags.”
But Wilson’s NFL career went awry almost from the minute he agreed to a four-year contract with a $6 million signing bonus. He was put on the COVID-19 list twice, played in one game and reportedly twice went AWOL and was found partying.
“COVID affected so many people in so many different ways,” Fountaine said. “Who knows if he felt the pressure of being a No. 1 pick with real big expectations and he wasn’t really playing well at the time? I think being on the practice squad is one of the best things for him because he can develop. If he can make the roster it would be even better, because then no other team can pluck him.”
Wilson’s “love of football” has been questioned in NFL circles. If he doesn’t show it with the Giants – Judge runs a grueling program to weed out pretenders – it could be the deal-breaker.
“It seemed like he loved it at Georgia – he’s throwing himself into the hedges after the game,” Fountaine said. “I think he liked it a lot here, but it’s hard to say because he’s such a big kid and it came easy for him.”
By design, the Giants won’t make it easy.