Houston County linebacker and Auburn football commit Wesley Steiner was standing in line in his elementary school cafeteria in Laurel, Mississippi, for lunch when his interest in football first began.
“My peewee coach came into my elementary school and said, ‘I want you to come play football for me.’ I said, ‘Ok,’ not knowing how far football could carry you along,” Steiner said. “It was pretty hot. ... I was pretty bad.”
Steiner has gone from the chubby kid at youth football practice to being been named the Most Athletic High School Football Player in the US after his showing at The Opening Finals, posting the highest SPARQ score.
He is a 4-star recruit ranked in the top 50 nationally by ESPN and was recently featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter social media accounts for lifting 405 pounds.
Steiner said his path to football stardom wasn’t easy.
Steiner was born in Laurel and spent the first seven-and-a-half years of his life being raised by his grandparents.
In a school of about 500 kids, he had just four friends. He wasn’t well-liked and was treated poorly by other students.
“It still hurts a little bit… It was like, ‘I wish these people just treated me a little better.’,” he said. “If that didn’t happen to me I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I really appreciate that I was put in that situation because you can make it or break it.”
He said that he encountered his “make it or break it moment” when he was about 7 years old. He had seen some of the worst parts of what his hometown had to offer. He sat by as many of his classmates began to turn down the wrong path because, like him, they had no father in their life, he said.
Children were behaving badly at school and talking about joining gangs or getting tattoos. Some mentioned going home at night to watch their parents take drugs.
“That has probably been my driving force the whole time. It is why I am on the path that I am,” he said. “I am not going to use not having a father as an excuse to quit and act up... That is probably the biggest motivation that I have had.”
‘It is just for me and my family’
He said his grandparents stepped in to raise him and his sister.
Steiner’s grandparents had “the good moral ambiguity to take me and my sister in,” Steiner said. “Everyone has had their shares of ups and downs. Them teaching me and my sister (that) you just got to keep going, that is one of the biggest motivations that I have gotten from them, and I care about them very much.”
Life settled down for Steiner when he and his family moved to Middle Georgia. The move was made so that he would be in a better school system.
It was during his time in middle school there that he would realize that football could be a potential avenue to college. But he knew he would need a scholarship.
“It is just for me and my family. My family isn’t the wealthiest. I was either going to get a scholarship or I was going to go straight into the workforce,” he said. “Both are beneficial to my family. Thankfully, I got the scholarship opportunity to hopefully help my family more down the line.”
Steiner has been one of the key players for Houston County over the past few seasons. He plays both sides of the ball for the Bears.
He ran for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns his sophomore season, according to Max Preps. He led the team in tackles for a loss and blocked a punt on special teams in his junior year, and his performance — including work at off-season camps — caused college teams to take notice.
Then the offers started to come in from schools like Stanford, Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn. Auburn was the first to offer him a scholarship after his sophomore year. He says he was excited at first by all the offers but that it got harder the more he narrowed down his choices.
“It was surreal, as in like this is what I have been pushing for,” Steiner said. “It wasn’t a decision I could make. I had to let God lead me in the right direction.”
Why he chose Auburn
Before his grandfather passed away on April 1, 2017, he gave Steiner advice on how to pick the school he would attend. He said kept that advice close during the decision making process. He narrowed it down to two schools, Stanford and Auburn. He announced on Twitter that he had chosen Auburn in July.
“He said, ‘Go where you can play sooner rather than later and go where they want you,’” Steiner said. “Auburn was by far the most consistent school.”
Over the last week, Steiner captured the nation’s attention when his viral video began to circulate. Houston County head coach Ryan Crawford said the video is a showcase of the team’s hard work and his staff’s dedication to putting together a rigorous weight program.
“It puts our program at the forefront. It lets people know in our county and around that state that our guys are working,” Crawford said. “It is exciting for our school. It is exciting for our weight program. Just to see what we are doing is validated.”
Steiner was surprised to see the video go viral.
“I have put all the work in, I am just getting the reward out of it now,” he said. “I was pushing for a little bit of attention because it is not every day someone does this. I wasn’t expecting it to blow up the way it did.”
Despite all the attention, Steiner and the team are focused on the upcoming season. He is excited to begin senior year and hopes that the team can make a big jump after finishing 2-8 the past two seasons.
“If we can get out of the region, we can make a run in the state playoffs,” Steiner said.
Steiner is also looking to cement his legacy as one of the best to ever come through Houston County. He uses players like Houston County alum Jake Fromm as a measuring stick for his success but also as motivation to be better than them.
He said he wants to push past what they have done all while remaining humble. At the end of the day, he said he is looking to make his family proud — especially his grandmother.
“It is an excellent opportunity to know that there is a mark where you know you can make it out...My goal was to go past Jake.” he said. “I try to be the best character as well... I try to pride myself on being a good teammate to my brothers out here and being a good grandson.”