Military man: Camden Military Academy molds Dexter Wideman into a more well-rounded student
By CHRIS COX
The State Newspaper
CAMDEN — Dexter Wideman can’t seem to escape the gnawing thought, no matter how much time seems to pass.
Every day, the former Saluda High standout silently wonders why he wasn’t with the South Carolina football team he originally signed with in February (2014), helping solve the season-long defensive struggles.
Instead, he found himself in an entirely new territory, one far away from his usual comfort level on the gridiron.
“Every night before I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up, I think about that,” he said. “I know I could have been there helping them.”
And yet, somehow, things have found a way to work themselves out. No, he was not playing on Saturdays in Williams-Brice Stadium like he anticipated. But he is 40 miles down I-20 at Camden Military Academy, developing the skills necessary, both on the field and off, to help better prepare him for his transition to USC. “I told him when he came to school here, ‘Son, you’ve already proven yourself on the football field,’ ” said Colonel Eric Boland, the school’s headmaster. “ ‘The challenge you’re going to have now, coming to our school, is prove yourself in the classroom and in the dormitories.’ ”
Wideman admits the initial transition proved difficult. He went from being the big man on campus at Saluda to just another cadet, one who rose at 6:30 a.m., underwent room inspections and marched to every meal with his company. It was the lifestyle of a military man, not that of a star-studded football prospect with professional aspirations.
“It’s a different lifestyle, but once I got used to it, I felt like it was going to help me in the long run,” he said. “My grandmother told me that she’s seen improvement in me ever since I’ve been here.” Boland has seen it, too. He admits to viewing Wideman as one of his favorites. But it is hard to blame him after their initial meeting, where the defensive end left a lasting impression upon hearing Boland’s requirements for him.
The Colonel sat he, his mother and grandmother down in his office, informing him he would need high character, leadership and a hard work ethic to succeed. Wideman answered with manners every time and explained that he, too, had set similar goals for himself.
“He came to us, being a seven-day-a-week boarding school where you don’t go home Friday night after a football game, go out with the cheerleaders or different things like that,” Boland said. “He just took everything in stride. He followed the rules, he never asked for any special favors or anything like that.”
His football plans, however, didn’t go quite as smoothly. He dislocated his elbow in his third game with Camden Military and has been rehabilitating before joining the Gamecocks next semester. But he still managed to showcase the talents, albeit briefly, which helped land him spots in the Shrine Bowl and on the Under Armour All-American team. He played largely at end for coach Will Rice but also came inside on obvious run downs and played sparingly at tight end.
“There’s a reason South Carolina recruited him,” Rice said. “It’s obvious. It’s there, you said, all while keeping his academics in order. He is on pace to arrive at USC in January and be ready for spring practice.
“It’s not like we’ve got this real diamond in the rough who we had to polish a whole lot,” Boland said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do without any hesitation.”
To be fair, Boland and his staff have done their share of polishing. Wideman likes to think he has learned about more aspects of life having been a cadet, from the military lifestyle to what fork to use at a formal meal. The latter took a bit more clarification than he might have realized, having been confused at one of Boland’s dinner parties.
“I had to ask coach, ‘I don’t mean to sound crazy or anything, but I want to make sure I’m using the right fork,’ ” Wideman recalled, laughing. “Coach Boland, he’s a wonderful guy. I love him. He’s a big part of why I’m here.”
The two have formed a tight bond since his enrollment. They drove together to a dinner in downtown Columbia in early November, another example of the closeness they have developed during Boland’s tutelage.
He admits Wideman “is like a son” to him. The two undoubtedly will maintain their strong relationship after the former four-star recruit heads for the Southeastern Conference. That connection is attributable, in large part, to Wideman’s willingness to succeed at Camden Military despite the situation that initially landed him there.
“We try to be successful with all of them, but it takes a special guy to come in and do every single thing they have to do in this military setting and then play football, too,” Boland said. “And we don’t take prima donnas, so we’re not for everyone.”
It will not be easy for Wideman to bid adieu to Boland, Rice and his fellow cadets. But he finds himself itching to contribute to that beleaguered South Carolina defense. He speaks with defensive line coach Deke Adams frequently and reiterated his commitment to the program despite any staff changes that might loom.
“When I was first born,” he said, “I knew I was a Gamecock.” And now, he’s much more than just a Gamecock. Now he’s a man.
“It takes a lot just to get up early in the morning when you don’t feel like getting up, cleaning your room and getting things done,” he said. “Things you wouldn’t do in your normal life. But it’s molding me into a better person.”