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Bond between Moorhead's Weah and his mom has moved from a refugee camp to the football field

Cece Wilson hugs her son Otis Weah at Moorhead Spuds Jake Gotta Stadium.David Samson / The Forum1 / 4
Moorhead's Otis Weah looks to cut his way through the Willmar defense during the Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, game at Moorhead. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 4
Otis Weah of Moorhead is challenged by Tanner Andvik of Sauk Rapids-Rice during their football game Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
Running back Otis Weah practices with the football team Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, at Moorhead High. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Moorhead senior running back and defensive back Otis Weah stood next to his mother in the end zone at Jim Gotta Stadium before football practice last Thursday. He stared, looking for something that wasn't there.

On the field, Weah plays with bold, almost reckless, speed. The noises from his collisions have crowds teetering between excitement and concern. Weah does not fear those crunches. He has a rare confidence that he will always be the one emerging from those hits unloading a triumphant scream.

Last Thursday, he stared, having just answered questions about never meeting his father, the journey his mother took to get him away from civil war in Liberia and the trouble he got in at a young age before finding football.

"What are you thinking?" his mom, Cece Wilson, said, fully aware her son was upset despite his silence.

Weah said nothing. He didn't need to. His mom opened her arms and Weah buried his face into her shoulder. As she hugged him, she smiled and told him he's a good boy.

"It's amazing because at first I thought I was doing something to keep him out of trouble," Cece said. "I didn't know he had the passion for the game. It's something that makes me proud, knowing he has that passion, that love."

Weah plays the way he does for his mother.

"My mom has been my mom and dad since I was a little kid," Otis said. "I think it could've been a little different with a male role model or father figure in my life, but with my mom I look up to her. She's the strongest person I've ever met."

Cece gave birth to Otis alone at a refugee camp in Ghana at the age of 15. Her mother had already made it to the United States and Otis' father left her five months into the pregnancy. She was alone with her first-born child, at a refugee camp, unaware when, if ever, the two of them would get out. It took them 15 months to get their visa, and arrived in Minneapolis on July 26, 2001, just before Otis turned 2.

"Nobody asks to be a refugee. We're all human," Cece said.

Cece has taught Otis they are in this country via a piece of paper that can be taken away if it's misused. She has said he has taken that advice and run with it. On the football field, he never stops running.

"I treat it like every game is my last because you never know when it'll all go away, so you got to have fun with it, while you can, and play your hardest, while you can, because you never know when it'll all end," Otis said.

The problems in school for Otis started in third and fourth grade in Brooklyn Park, Minn. He was doing things like jumping on desks and taking the teacher's marker and writing on the walls. A parent at the school recommended flag football to Cece.

"It kept him out of trouble and kept him focused," Cece said. "And he loved the game."

Around that age, Otis got a college football video game for PlayStation 2 from his mom. He said he'd be playing for one of those teams in the game some day. In fifth grade, his gym teacher told him if he worked hard it could open up doors in the future for he and his family.

"Football has taught me to choose wisely what I do because my actions can reflect on everyone else," Otis said. "It helps me do things not just for myself, but to better others around me that support me. I think football helps me out a lot. Since I've been playing I don't think I've been in trouble in a long time. It's because of football. I'm happy it's here and I have something to lean back on."

The trouble started again in seventh grade. So much so that Cece decided she did not want Otis growing up near a big city, so she moved them to Euless, Texas. They spent the summer there, but she couldn't find work. A friend told her about work in Fargo, so she moved to Moorhead.

"It was bad," Otis said. "I was hanging out with a group of kids that were not good kids. I used to not come home some nights, be gone for two nights, three nights and she'd be worried."

Otis found Moorhead football and a father figure in coach Kevin Feeney. Cece tells her mom all the time she thanks God for Feeney.

"He's an example of a respectful, responsible man, someone you could look up to," Otis said. "He doesn't pick favorites. He loves everyone. If he gives me tough love he'll give the worst player tough love. You wouldn't be able to tell the worst player on the team from the best player on the team because he treats them exactly the same."

Weah has rushed for 731 yards and 11 touchdowns on 74 carries this season for No. 5-ranked Moorhead. He's coming off a game against Willmar where he rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns, while adding an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery on defense. He was in for all but three plays.

Freshmen at Moorhead, after their season is over, are invited to practice with the varsity before playoffs. Otis volunteered for it.

"Right away you could tell he had a heart of gold and a real strong passion for football," Feeney said. "You could see he was going to bring it. That never changed. If he's ever been absent from practice you know it right away. You can hear Otis. You know when he's there. You know the energy is not there when he's not."

Otis' gym teacher in fifth grade may be right, as Weah has North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota showing interest in him.

"I think he's got way too much passion for football to not be playing college," Feeney said. "I think whoever ends up with him is getting a diamond. He's a special football player. He is a crazy, crazy, energetic explosive player no matter where you put him. He's one of those kids that if you watch a game he's in you'll never take your eyes off him."

Cece calls Otis her little handbag because he's always been by her side. She is married and currently working as a nurse's aid, while studying to become a nurse. Otis is eyeing a chance to play football in college. In 1999, they were alone at a refugee camp, Cece scared of what was in front of them.

"I just want to help us get a better life," Otis said. "No more my mom and dad having to work as much as they used to. Football could open up doors. I'm doing it for that, and I found a passion for it."

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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