It Takes a Village

Vic Wharton III and DeVante Wilson tackle fatherhood, school and football

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Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

About four miles west of the UC Berkeley campus sits a 58-acre enclave of homes in Albany. There are park benches, playgrounds and street signs straight out of suburbia. The waterfront is within walking distance. Townhomes and apartments line the streets while remnants from pumpkin-carving parties still lie in the neighborhood’s patches of grass.

Just about everyone who lives in one of these 974 units is a UC Berkeley student living with their family. Walking around the University Village, you’ll spot these student families with their kids. The community is a great place to raise a child — it’s still market-rate housing, but there’s the added merit that comes with raising a child not only near families in similar situations but also close to the quality elementary schools in the Albany Unified School District.

And here, days such as Halloween are far different from what they are closer to campus. Instead of 20-year-olds flocking to rowdy parties, it’s a bunch of 20-year-olds taking their dressed-up children around to collect sweets or holding bowls of candy to give to neighborhood kids while feigning interest in their very, very spooky costumes.  

“Halloween was my biggest adult moment,” says Vic Wharton III, a father of a 4-month-old son in the University Village. “I’m at home and not going to any parties. I’m holding my son and he’s dressed up in his costume. … It’s changed so much from going to a party last year to handing out candy this year.”

Vic, a wide receiver on the Cal football team, along with his teammate DeVante Wilson — who has a nearly 2-year-old daughter — are among the few residents of the University Village who also hold the lofty distinction of being student-athletes.

Neither DeVante nor Vic started out at Cal — both transferred after stints with other FBS schools. Vic previously played at Tennessee, where he met his now-girlfriend Alexis DeSanto. DeVante met his wife, Brittany Wilson, at Riverside City College, where he ended up after leaving USC.

Brittany, who DeVante first met through mutual friends on Facebook, found out she was pregnant when he was a sophomore at Riverside City College. Though the news came as a shock, the setting of the discovery was actually quite opportune for the young couple. As first-time parents with still largely unsettled lives, DeVante and Brittany benefitted from living especially close to his family.

Ariel Nava/Courtesy

Ariel Nava/Courtesy

DeVante grew up in Corona, California, a mere 20 minutes away from Riverside, and his family took an active role from the early stages of the pregnancy to right after his daughter, Avery. They let DeVante and Brittany move in with them, and the new parents stayed there for the first two months of Avery’s life.

With his parents helping to take care of Avery, DeVante spent time trying to better his daughter’s life and find some stability by securing a destination to transfer to.

Though he initially considered quitting the sport to find an immediate job, according to ESPN, DeVante threw himself into football. While balancing school and raising a child, DeVante sought to show top football programs that he belonged back in the FBS.

“Right when she was born, I had to take some visits to colleges. It was tough leaving my wife at home while she had the newborn,” DeVante says. “But we knew it was better for our future. … It kind of pushes me to work harder and do extra stuff in the offseason to get good so I can provide a better life for her.”

He impressed as a defensive lineman who was capable of halting opposing rushing attacks and was targeted by some teams in the Pac-12. Despite being verbally committed to Washington State for a short time, he signed with Cal in December 2014.

DeVante has excelled with the Bears since then, and though simply receiving a scholarship and a UC Berkeley education may have been his goal upon arriving in the Bay Area, the NFL is now a possibility for DeVante, who married Brittany in July.

“(The NFL) was the goal so I can provide a better life for (Avery) and have the financial means so my wife can continue to stay at home with her,” DeVante says.

As for Vic, he also attended school close to home at Tennessee after growing up in Nashville. He met his girlfriend of almost two years, Alexis, there through mutual friends but decided to transfer away from the Volunteer State to play at Cal. Luckily, Alexis was quickly able to find a job in Berkeley as an assistant manager at the Berkeley Central Apartment complex.

Just a couple of months after Alexis, who’s from Florida, joined Vic in Berkeley, the couple learned she was expecting a child. The news came as a bit of a jolt at first.

“I was a little nervous. I was nervous how I was going to tell my parents,” Vic says. “Neither of us have any family out here. Her family was supportive of the situation and so was mine. Now we’ve just had more family visits since then.”

Their nerves soon gave way to excitement, even without the ready-made support system that DeVante and Brittany had. Despite not having any relatives in his immediate area, Vic benefitted from the fact that he was born when his father was a student-athlete himself. This made Vic’s parents more than qualified to offer advice.

Vic Wharton IV was born in July, just a couple of months before his father was set to take the field for the first time as a Bear. Given the additional responsibility, Vic Wharton III recommitted to making the best life he could for his son.

Vic Wharton Family/Courtesy

Vic Wharton Family/Courtesy

After having been on academic probation, Vic was inspired to do better by his newborn. He excelled in his summer classes and, now on more stable scholastic footing, also found an expanded role on the football field. With the NFL unlikely to be in his future, Vic is determined to do whatever it takes to bring a stable life to his family.

“It’s hard, but it’s a good hard,” Vic says. “I love going home and seeing my son. It just makes my day better, and it makes me work harder.”

Actually navigating the institutional barriers many student-parents face in the search for stability, though, is anything but easy.

Both players, however, have been helped by some of UC Berkeley’s programs for student families. One of the most impactful resources made available to student-parents at the school is the Student Parent Center.

The program, which is housed in the César E. Chávez Student Center, is funded largely through registration fees and the Giving Opportunities and Leadership Development fee, a student referendum passed in 2015. The Student Parent Center provides a plethora of accommodations for student-parents and their families. The program is a safe space for student-parents to study and interact, while providing opportunities to commiserate with others in similar situations.

In conjunction with the University Village, the Student Parent Center also helps provide mental health counseling for student-parents — or their families — as they may deal with additional stresses forced by the balancing of an academic workload, potentially a job and, of course, their kid(s).

Additionally, there are two professional staffers, who are student-parent alumni, and a group of students who help fill out the myriad forms for financial aid and child care that can intimidatingly be thrown at a student-parent, in addition to providing academic and emotional support.

Vic’s and DeVante’s families both make use of the program’s resources. Brittany has used the Student Parent Center to file for budget appeals, which can increase financial aid awards to cover child care, housing and other familial expenses.

“(Vic and DeVante) actively participate at the Student Parent Center,” says Ginelle Perez, the program’s director. “Their families are also always welcomed. They tap into a lot of the workshops that we have.”

According to Perez, the program also runs a two-unit class in the education department every semester for student-parents that teaches valuable skills and also helps empower and educate them for county assistance, such as CalFresh.

“It’s been helpful,” Vic says of the class. “You have a bunch of parents that really talk about how hard it’s been for them to really juggle school and being a parent.”

Though both Vic and DeVante seem to be ably taking to parenthood, balancing the workload of the typical student-athlete with the additional responsibilities of fatherhood has been no small feat.

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Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

“Being an athlete, especially on the football team, is like having a job in addition to being a student,” says Joanna Reed, who teaches the campus’s Sociology of the Family course. “They’re likely to be really involved dads, even given their demanding schedules.”

Both enjoy taking a hands-on approach in the raising of their children — a trend that Reed says is increasing in fathers — but they have benefitted from their partners’ willingness to take on a primary parenting role: Brittany is a stay-at-home mom, while Alexis is on maternity leave. This doesn’t change the players’ desire to be involved in the life of their children.

They’ve embraced some of the quirks of being a parent, whether that be taking monthly pictures as his son’s “personal photographer” for Vic — who claims he can now change diapers in less than 45 seconds now — or reading with Avery and experiencing her quickly learn new things for DeVante.

“It’s been fun seeing (Avery) grow every day mentally. She does new stuff every day. She’s singing songs, doing her ABC’s. She knows how to count to 10,” DeVante says with a laugh. “Her first word was ‘dada.’ It was ‘dada’ everything — ‘mommy’ was ‘dada.’ ”

The bond of being some of the only players on the team with children has brought Vic and DeVante closer. DeVante, whom players on the team call “Old Man” and “Dad,” has been a mentor for Vic, while Brittany has been an important help for Alexis in terms of adjusting to young parenthood. Alexis and Brittany sit together at many of the football games with their children, while Vic IV wears protective earphones and Avery happily yells along with the crowd’s cheers.

Both players have pretty thoroughly changed the structure of their lives outside of football. While most teammates may go hang out after practice, Vic and DeVante are often rushing home to take advantage of even the limited hours they can see their children. Some players, however, have taken a special interest in the kids. According to Vic, some of his closer friends on the team, such as Patrick Laird and Chase Forrest, are eager to hang out with his son.

“Everyone loves lil’ Vic,” says Vic Wharton III. “I have two years (of eligibility) left. He’ll grow up knowing them, and they love him being around, so that’s also helpful. It’s not like I can’t have my buddies anymore, either. … It’s just a good family atmosphere here.”

With so many hours every week devoted just to practice with the team and free time most often spent with the children, it can often be hard to find time for schoolwork. But because of the expectations of most UC Berkeley courses, it’s not really an option to completely throw schoolwork aside.

And because the NFL is not a guarantee for either player, excelling in school is especially important to set themselves up for a stable life after football — one that can also support a family and child. Shirking responsibilities with the football team is also not an option, as both are on scholarship, not to mention their passion for the sport.

“It gets almost to the point of impossible to manage it all,” says Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, whose wife recently gave birth to the couple’s third child. “But I’m really proud of DeVante and Vic for handling it the way that they have. … A challenging situation forces you to grow up, and I think that they have.”

Even for normal students, the task of raising a child can often directly conflict with the UC Berkeley workload. For DeVante, and especially Vic — the former is more of a seasoned pro at this point with Avery nearing her second birthday — sleep has fallen by the wayside, as fatherhood is a clear first priority. So it’s hard. But to both players, it’s worth it.

“You’ll really understand how much you can love someone and how much they can change your motivation,” Vic says. “I’m thankful for him because maybe some things weren’t going right, but now I feel like whatever it is, he’s going to make it better.”

Hooman Yazdanian covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian