Even as cancer ravaged his body, the smile that personified Wilson Holloway never left.
“He was never a negative person at any time,” childhood friend Tucker Holland said. “That speaks so much to the kind of person he was.”
Holloway, a former basketball and football standout at Oklahoma Christian School and football player at Tulsa, died Wednesday from complications of Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 22.
During the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, Holloway was honored with the FedEx Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America Courage Award.
Before the game between Oklahoma and Florida, Heritage Hall High School football coach Andy Bogert and his son ran into Holloway.
“He grabbed my son and said, ‘You're coming to our suite,' and we wound up watching the game with him,” Bogert said. “It's just things like that. He was a great kid. It's devastating.”
Nic Combs played basketball with Holloway from the time they were on a 9-and-under team through high school, when they played AAU for Athlete's First.
“He was just a fun guy,” said Combs, now playing at Troy (Ala.) University. “He was always one of those guys that makes you feel better as a person.
“He was always looking at the good side of people.”
Holloway redshirted for the Golden Hurricane in 2007. While preparing for the 2008 season, he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time on March 13, 2008.
After undergoing cancer treatment, the offensive lineman played six games in 2008 even as he underwent treatment following the return of the disease.
“I had the mentality that I'm not going to let this ruin my life,” Holloway told The Oklahoman in 2009. “It's just something I have to go through for a little bit. It's not going to ruin what I do.”
University of Central Oklahoma coach Tracy Holland, Tucker's father and the football coach at OCS when Holloway was there, knows what cancer can do to a family.
Another of his sons, Eric, has battled inoperable brain cancer since he was 18 months old.
Holloway, who was close in age with Eric, was Eric's best friend.
“He was one of those who was always there for us,” Tracy Holland said. “He was like a son.”
Former Tulsa offensive coordinator Herb Hand twice broke the news to Holloway that he had cancer and joined TU players in shaving their heads in support.
“THE toughest fighter I have ever known,” Hand wrote on Twitter following Holloway's death. “Your impact on Earth is immeasurable...I love and miss you.”
During a 2009 Tulsa football game, T-shirts were given out with Wilson's number and “Just Keep Smiling” on them.
“You never saw the guy not smiling,” Tucker Holland said. “Wilson was a person who was bigger than life itself.”
In addition to the Courage Award, Holloway was a recipient of the 2010 Wilma Rudolph Award and was a finalist for the 2010 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion award.
“He lived a great life,” Tucker Holland said. “Everyone loved him. I never knew another person like him.”
Services are pending.