Life Lessons

Senior football player Colby Wilkinson grew up fast while his father, who died in 2013, struggled with addiction

Colby Wilkinson

Back in August, Tufts football coach Jay Civetti sat down to discuss the seniors on the 2014 team for profiles that would appear in the game program. When Colby Wilkinson’s name came up, Civetti put aside his role as coach.

Before explaining how Wilkinson would contribute on the field, and how he has led the team in community service activities off the field, Civetti spoke like a father. “Colby is the type of young man any parent would wish their son to be like,” said the coach and dad of a 2-year-old.

The man that Wilkinson is grew out of his relationship with his own father, Mark Wilkinson, and the times they shared, both good and bad. As Tufts Football celebrates Parents Weekend during the Oct. 18 game against Williams College, Wilkinson, a linebacker and long snapper, will no doubt be thinking of his father, who died of a heart attack in December 2013.

Colby is one of Alison and Mark Wilkinson’s four children. As the oldest of three boys, he grew up faster than most, taking on responsibilities as man of the house while his father battled alcohol addiction. Colby was in middle school when Mark Wilkinson moved out of the family home in Keene, New Hampshire, to Biddeford, Maine, to deal with his addiction.

Alison kept the family going, and Colby became a role model for his younger brothers, Carter and Hunter. He instilled the values of respect, kindness and work ethic that he had learned from their father.

Mark Wilkinson continued to be a part of his children’s lives. “He was 120 miles away from us, but he never really lost sight of being a loving father,” Colby said. “I knew he was personally struggling, but he wanted to hear about how I was doing. If I was having a rough time, I could bounce ideas off him. He was a calming, reassuring voice.”

Sports played a big role in the Wilkinsons’ early family life. Mark had played football in high school and fostered the concepts of teamwork and discipline he learned through sports in his own children. Like many parents of Tufts players here today, the Wilkinsons spent their Saturdays at their kids’ games.

“He was at every practice, every game for all four of us,” Colby said. “There were times on a Saturday we’d have 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. football games. Then we’d go to my sister’s soccer game in the afternoon in a different part of the state. It was a full day, but it was what he loved to do. He loved to watch us play.”

Mark took special satisfaction when Colby’s team won the first Pop Warner state championship in Keene history.

“He was never one of the loudest cheerers among the parents, but I still remember his face to this day when I was coming off the field,” Colby said. “It was a smile of approval.”

Tough Love

Colby’s teenage years were a roller coaster ride because of his father’s addiction. The lows were devastating. At one of the last games of his career at Keene High School, Colby had seen his father at halftime. But when he couldn’t find him after the game, Colby learned that Mark had been arrested.

Through the highs and lows, Mark continued to offer fatherly advice. Early in his postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy, Colby wasn’t happy about being third on the football team’s depth chart at linebacker. He had never had to earn a starting position before. Mark set him straight.

“He told me that I sounded entitled,” Colby said. “He gave me a tough-love answer, saying that anything you want, you have to earn it. I took that to heart, and by the end of that week I was starting.”

Mark also encouraged his children to give back to their community. When they would visit him in Maine for Thanksgiving, he took them to a community kitchen on the day before the holiday to serve hot meals to those less fortunate. Colby always remembered those experiences. He is the community service representative for the football team and has organized initiatives such as a coat drive for the Somerville Homeless Shelter.

It was during their Thanksgiving visit in 2013 that the children saw their father was emerging from his addiction. Fresh out of rehab, he was sober and healthy for the first time in many years.

“It was the best he’s ever been,” Colby said. “We drove away from Thanksgiving that year almost teary eyed because it was like we had our dad back from when we were little.”

On December 8, Colby and Mark were on the phone planning a Christmas visit. For the first time in a long while, the kids were excited about going to see him. The next day, Mark died.

Colby said he was overwhelmed by the support he received from his coach and his teammates, who went to the funeral service in Maine. His teammates were in awe of Colby’s mettle during a difficult time.

“It was pretty incredible to see how well Colby held up,” said senior tri-captain Tommy Meade. “He was a rock for his family. That’s the same kind of guy he is for our team, and it’s reflected in the way he plays. He plays through injuries and does whatever is asked of him. Colby is the toughest pound-for-pound guy we have on the team and has always been a prime example of what being a great teammate is all about,” he said.

“Growing up, you realize your parents aren’t perfect,” Colby said. “They make mistakes. They’re human, too. One of the most special things about my parents is despite the cards they’d been dealt, they were always loving parents. We’re all in successful positions today because of their hard work and their caring.”

Mark Wilkinson would be proud, and happy, to hear that.

Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at

Back to Top