It’s unfortunate that Del Wilkes passed away before he could see himself inducted into the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame, but it’s still very satisfying for his family, who saw his life come full circle.
“We were excited when we found out,” said Wilkes’ daughter, Mallie Little. “I know that this is something that he wanted for a long time. I know that out of everything he accomplished, to all of us, playing football at the University of South Carolina and all of his accomplishments there were highlights of his life. I’ve got Carolina stuff all over my house. We all do! My brother Robert, his oldest daughter’s name is Garnet!”
Wilkes passed away from a heart attack in 2021 at the age of 59. He was an all-state offensive lineman from Irmo, S.C., and had outstanding senior season as a senior for the Gamecocks in 1984 when he was named to four All-America teams (Kodak Coaches, Walter Camp, AP and UPI) while also being named All-South Independent and winning the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top blocker in the state. Wilkes was a co-captain of the squad, and he was named MVP of the 10-2 team under head coach Joe Morrison.
“I know he worked very hard,” Little said. “He wanted to be great, and he loved Carolina football. Everything that he earned when he played at Carolina, he gave credit to the team and the rest of the offensive line. He spoke very highly of his time there and was very proud of playing there.”
“He reached a lot of people and helped a lot of people as well in telling his story of falling from grace and how he came back up.”
Not long after football, Wilkes went on to a lengthy career in professional wresting as “The Patriot.” Little was very young during this part of Wilkes’ life, but she has gone back and enjoyed watching him perform as that character.
“I think it’s hilarious,” Little said. “He was very charismatic and could talk to anybody. He had a great personality and was very funny. It was funny to watch him do some of those interviews before and after a match where he would get all worked up. It’s very entertaining, and he was very good at stuff like that.”
As a result of injuries from his career, Wilkes later became addicted to prescription pain killers and spent some time in prison. Fortunately, Wilkes found the strength to defeat his demons and redeemed himself.
“After he came out on other side he would travel around and give his testimony at different churches and things like that,” Little said. “That was something that was very important to him. I’m sure he reached a lot of people and helped a lot of people as well in telling his story of falling from grace and how he came back up. It meant a lot. There were some troubled years, but for him to come out the way he did, and for all of us to have a good relationship with him like we did was important. He was very close to his family, and we all loved him very much.
“He was the best grandfather ever to my daughter and all of his grandkids. When my daughter says her prayers every night, she still says, ‘thank you for Papa,’ and talks about him all the time. After he overcame all those troubles, he was such a great dad and especially a great grandfather. He was a good guy.”
Wilkes is survived by Little, his sons Robert and Alex, and ex-wife Teresa. The 2022 Class of the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame sponsored by the Association of Lettermen will be inducted the weekend of October 28-30.