The Will To Win
“I have to say – and I say this with a record of unblemished heterosexuality – Will Demps is smokin’ hot.” This hilarious quote, written by a straight man, which was found on an Australian blog called Eurasian Sensation (http://eurasian–sensation.blogspot.com/), pretty much sums up every human beings reaction to a photo of Will Demps. Even my four year old daughter’s reaction to a photo of Will was, “Oooo la la, he’s handsome!” (Thank goodness she has good taste! But geez are we in trouble!) It’s a fact that Will Demps, former NFL player for the Ravens, Giants and Texans respectively, has been blessed with astoundingly good looks. One could easily assume that such an attractive, former professional athlete would be quite full of himself. The reality, however, is that Will Demps is a man who is humbled by the many blessings in his life. He is guided by his Christian faith and he recognizes the importance of giving back to the community.
As I waited for Will in the lobby of his hotel, I didn’t know what to expect. We’d spoken on the phone to arrange the interview but I wondered, what would this man, whom legions of women (and men) adore, be like in person? He arrived to the lobby looking like a West coast celebrity. Decked out in Ray Bans, expensive jeans, tan blazer with a light pink scarf and a knit cap, there was no doubt this man was used to the limelight. Yet, he beamed with his freakishly perfect smile, apologized for being late and gave me a big hug, as if we were longtime friends.
Working on a nonprofit budget, I asked Will if he would mind taking the subway to the first stop on our schedule. Without hesitation, he agreed and, in fact, stated that he liked riding the subway. As we walked down the street and into the 49th Street station, there were lots of stares and whispers. With some gawkers you could almost hear their thoughts. Who is that? He looks famous. Having played for the New York Giants for only one season, I didn’t know whether he would be recognized. Sure enough he was by some. By others, he was just a good looking stylish dude. Whether recognized or not, Will was friendly and approachable. In fact, after a gentleman asked him for subway directions, Will then continued to converse with him, asking how long he’d be in town and where he was from. As I watched this interaction, I made a mental note on how friendly Will Demps was – and then witnessed that friendliness again and again throughout the rest of our time together.
Will’s warmth truly shined through when, as a complete favor, he agreed to speak with my children’s pre-kindergarten class in Brooklyn. I can attest that a room of four and five year olds are easily impressed by a former football player. (As are the student teachers and actual teachers both younger and older!) Will has a surprisingly natural ease with children, making them giggle is one of his talents. Clearly, he enjoyed interacting with the kids. He spoke to the class about working hard and believing in themselves. This is his message anytime he speaks with children and young adults. Certainly, his life has been a testament to this advice. Will Demp’s story is truly one that inspires.
Although Will’s father, an African-American serviceman, was in the military, his parents, William Henry Demps, Sr., and Kye (Park) Demps, a South Korean native, met in the United States sometime around 1977. Less than two years later his parents were married and William Henry Demps, Jr. was born on November 7, 1979 in Charleston, South Carolina. Like a typical military kid, Will went on to move with his family to many places such as England, North Dakota, South Korea and finally back to the states. His brother, Marcus, also a former NFL player was born in 1984. Mr. and Mrs. Demps have now been married for over thirty years.
“At times being a military kid was hard because you’d make a friend and then all of the sudden you’d be gone.” WIll thinks it would have been “cool if we had the social networks we have now.” Aside from this difficulty though, Will credits life as a military kid and the constant moving around as the reason why “…Marcus and I are so social because it taught us to meet other people really fast. You learn to move on.” Will believes that his experience as a military kid is what planted the seed to his love for travel now. “What excites me is …meeting new people, seeing other cultures.” He counts Rio de Janeiro among his favorite destinations to travel.
Although Will was exposed to many biracial children on military bases, especially in Korea, he and his brother were different because their father was African-American. Growing up, he felt some confusion regarding his racial identity. This uncertainty followed him to Palmdale, California, where he attended high school. “It was hard being a mixed kid…I wasn’t smart like a lot of the Korean kids at school and a lot of the African-American students didn’t think I was Black because my skin color wasn’t as dark..so it was hard for me because I couldn’t really grasp one race or another, I didn’t hang out with Blacks, I didn’t hang out with the Koreans. I was always in between and I always had a lot of white friends, I had a lot of Mexican friends, so it was weird because I remember, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I remember asking my mom, ‘are we different? Why are we not accepted?’”
As difficult as it is to imagine, Will describes his younger self as a “nerd” and a “little chubby kid.” The feeling of not fitting in or belonging in high school became Will’s motivation. As a child, Will dreamed of being a pilot. In fact, he didn’t start playing football until ninth grade. But when he did, he realized his potential and he made himself a promise. “ I made the goal that one day I was gonna be famous, one day girls are gonna like me, one day I’m gonna be a star.” The rejection that Will felt early in life made him understand that he would have to set goals, to work hard, to be better.
Mr. and Mrs. Demps never pressed on Will to play sports. His mother would not attend games, rather she would stay at home and pray for his health and safety. His father simply believed that whatever his sons’ did, they should do it with structure and to the best of their abilities. While Will was in high school, he received letters of interest from some colleges. He attended the UCLA camp and hoped to play football there. However, for an unbeknownst reason, Will’s high school coach told Bob Toledo, the UCLA coach, that he did not believe Will was good enough to play at UCLA. Word got back to Will but instead of getting mad, Will used this knowledge to drive himself to play harder throughout his senior year in high school. Will has never brought this topic up with his former high school coach. “I forgive but I don’t forget. My thrill and passion is proving people wrong. People are so negative in this world, they want to see people fail. I want to be a testament to when people say you can’t do something…if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Here I was a Black Korean kid, six feet, 200 pounds from Palmdale, a little small school – and I made it to play for San Diego State.” Ultimately receiving no scholarship offers, Will was a walk-on for the Aztecs. He went on to become a starter and a significant force for SDSU.
While in college, Will’s racial identity was evolving, “People that know me know that I’m a Korean kid. But when I was in college, Tiger Woods was around, I wasn’t like a Jeremy Lin type big deal. People didn’t know what I was. I never thought of myself as just a Black kid or just a Korean kid but I embraced knowing that there were not many Koreans playing football like I did. All I knew was Dat Nguyen and Hines Ward. I told myself I’m gonna be the next Korean Black guy in the NFL. The chances were so small, yet I was a starter.” Speaking further on his racial identity, Will said, “I’ve always embraced my Korean side throughout my life. I never felt like I had to choose myself.”
Through hard work and determination, Will went on to play for seven years in the NFL. At times, he says he still can’t believe that dream came true for him but he does not miss it. People tell him that he looks bigger now that he’s not playing football but he has no regrets. His life is full and busy now as an entrepreneur. He owns a Wet Willie’s franchise in San Diego and, take note ladies, is there often. He employs over fifty people and enjoys being his own boss. He gets a “thrill from knowing that people are getting paid [through working at his restaurant], especially in this economy.” To Will, his success is attributable to his parents. Will became visibly emotional when speaking about his gratitude for his parents. “With all of the hard work my parents did for me and my brother, it makes me feel good that my dad can go into my place of business and be treated like royalty. That’s why I work hard.”
Looking ahead, Will is still searching for his future Mrs. Demps. In the meantime, he is actively looking for other West coast locations to perhaps open another Wet Willie’s. He also plans on doing more work through his foundation called, The Will to Win. He feels a big responsibility when talking to kids. He hopes his life can be an example for young people. He encourages kids to, “…sit, write, daydream, envision it, envision being the best in college, having money, being happy, how are you going to get there? You never know who you are going to meet. You never know what plan God has for you. There is a reason for everything. God put me in a position to play football. I didn’t know I was going to do that. So I always tell kids to follow their dreams and do what you feel inside because at the end of the day only God is gonna judge you.”
Come and meet Will Demps in person at the KoreanAmericanStory.org Annual Benefit May8, 2012 in NYC. Will is auctioning off a personal dinner with him, as well (up to four people including him.) Don’t miss it!