Student-athlete finds second home,
lifetime friendship through teammate © June 19, 2009, Norwich University Office of Communications

Danny Wilde and Darnell Jackson met as teamates on the football field, and have become as close as brothers.

photo by Jay EricsonDanny Wilde and Darnell Jackson met as teammates on the football field, and have become as close as brothers.

Class of 2009 member Darnell Jackson was reared by a loving grandmother in inner-city Miami. Incoming senior Danny Wilde grew up in rural Massachusetts. The two student athletes, who met at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., came from very different backgrounds, but now call one another “brother.”

Both running backs on the football team, the students got to know one another through games and training during Danny’s freshman year. They encountered one another constantly through a mutual friend, Joe Brown, but never considered the friendship unusual. When Brown graduated, however, their bond grew stronger.

It began before a weeklong Thanksgiving break when Danny learned Jackson wasn’t able to travel home.

Norwich is a great place to meet genuine people.

~ Darnell Jackson,
Norwich student-athlete

“He came home with me for the first time and that week we really became friends,” said Danny, who begins his final year in the fall of 2009. “We just hung out. We hung out at people’s houses. My dad is a high school football coach back home so we hung out with the high school kids doing football.”

“As soon as I got there it felt like my family,” said Jackson.

While reminiscing, the two students repeatedly turned to watch ESPN on a flat-screen TV in the student center snack bar. They exchanged thoughts on some of the plays, and continued to steal quick glimpses during the interview. Both are passionate about sports, and have left their mark at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college.

“Both these guys are great role models” who work hard on and off the field and are known for making smart choices, said Shawn McIntyre, Norwich’s head football coach. “They are also both extremely strong, fast and explosive guys.”

During the 2008 football season, Jackson broke Norwich’s career rushing record with 3,045 yards.

“As individuals and in their friendship, [Jackson and Wilde] are a great example of what it’s all about,” said McIntyre. “The two of them are an example of what Norwich does.”

Joanne Wilde, Danny’s mother, remembers Jackson being quite shy when they first met. “He didn’t say two words, but by the end of the week we were best friends.”

Since that first visit, Jackson has visited the family many times. He has spent summer vacations in Maine and taken part in the famous Wilde family Easter egg hunts.

“I spend more time at his house than my own,” said Jackson. “We talk about everything ... life problems, jokes ... They are very involved in our lives.”

He also shares a close friendship with Danny’s sister, Stephanie, a sophomore at Salem State College in eastern Massachusetts. “She is a big part of both our lives,” said Danny. “She is really smart. She helps Darnell revise papers all the time.”

Their friendship, Joanne Wilde said, “helps Darnell live the family life he didn’t get, and it helps get Danny exposed to other ways of living. You know, you learn from other people.”

“I miss home but then I get to go home [to Mass.] for two weeks,” Jackson said.

Dangers associated with life for a young man in Miami, such as violence and gang activity, has made both Jackson and his family wary of his visiting. He acknowledges it is a place where bad things can happen.

“My family thinks it is better for me to be up here,” he said. “And it is expensive to come home.”

The Wildes have never met Jackson’s family, but Danny and Joanne talk to Jackson’s grandmother on the phone frequently. “She says she loves Darnell very much and she always thanks us for bringing him home,” Danny said. “She says she is always praying for us. She is a very spiritual lady.”

Both said they chose Norwich for the people. Jackson’s interest was piqued by a football recruiter. When he came to visit, it was the “atmosphere and a lot of guys I could relate to” that sold him.

“Norwich is a great place to meet genuine people,” he said. “Brotherhood is big up here.”

Mark Wilde, Danny’s father, agreed. “These two are brothers for life,” he said. “Norwich made these boys brothers for life.”

Joanne Wilde credits the honor code that applies to both traditional students and cadets, who lead a military lifestyle, with building integrity in “her boys.”

One time, she said, Danny lost his iPod for two weeks and Darnell found it in the gym and brought it to him. “How many schools can say that? Can say that you can leave something for two weeks and get it back, no problem?”

As Wilde got up to leave after the interview, Jackson grabbed something off the couch and handed it to Wilde. “Don’t forget your keys,” he said.

Danny laughed. “Ah, thanks. That’s the trouble with sweat pants.”