Back in August during fall camp, Roman Wilson was posed a question:
Who’s the fastest guy on the team?
“I’m gonna say it’s me all day,” the junior receiver responded.
Thus far, he’s proven that to be true, positioning himself as the No. 3 Michigan football team’s go-to guy in the flat. The Wolverines trust Wilson’s legs to carry him up the field — each stride he takes seems calculated and deliberate, powering him past defenders and in front of his own blockers.
There’s no doubt Wilson is the fastest guy on the team.
But he hasn’t always been the fastest.
In sixth grade, Wilson liked to race — and he hated losing.
So against Elijah Kekumualakaiokalelepaaikeakuaokalanikuakaa Kamalani, Wilson didn’t have a great time.
“My son would always beat him,” David Kamalani, Elijah’s dad and a speed trainer, told The Daily. “But watching him, I knew that he would have the talent for it, so I invited him to see if he wanted to train.”
At first, Wilson pushed back. He didn’t want to train with the father of his competition; But he decided to swallow his pride, and after one lesson, he was sold.
David knew what he was doing, and he could give Wilson the one thing he wanted most: to get faster. But what Wilson may not have grasped at the beginning was just how much David could do.
In 15 years of teaching — and over 30 years of study of the biomechanics of running — David has produced over 240 Division I athletes. His method is built on hard work, personal experience and trial and error.
“I just picked up books and just read and read and watched videos, you name it,” David said. “I got my hands on everything. And there were so many things that there wasn’t consistency. And I wasn’t sure why that was. And I took a look at my (5-foot-7) height and wondered, ‘Well, how come I was fast? What did I do?’ ”
So he tested his methods. Over time, David figured out what worked and what didn’t. He called his method a constant “copy-paste” until things clicked, and from that he developed his system. And despite its unorthodox source, it worked.
“I’m not certified by anyone,” David said. “And I went to a lot of trainers that would give classes and whatever, and I found that I would ask a lot of questions and still it seemed like everyone was caught in this box. … They write dissertations when they say it’s backed up by science.
“Yet I take their athletes and make them faster.”
With Wilson, David did it once again. He took someone who was already fast, and he made him faster.
He was working with a good lineage, though. Wilson’s mom, Colleen Colegrove, was a track athlete at St. Ignace High School in Michigan, setting school and state records — some holding to this day. In high school, she lost just one race.
Wilson had all the right genetics to be good — really good, even. But he needed David to be great.
“The difference (in his trajectory) is when Roman got connected with David,” Colegrove told The Daily.
Part of that is thanks to David’s impeccable ability to break down running mechanics. He can explain the complicated connections between physiology and the nervous system simply enough for a sixth-grader to understand, and he can make his pupils faster in just one session.
The other part has nothing to do with running.
“What I oversee is more than just teaching them speed,” David said. “I teach them how to get seen.”
Getting seen is easier said than done, especially in Wilson’s home state of Hawaii. It’s hard for scouts to get out there, and only at a specific few schools can players truly get noticed. David knew that, and he knew what it often took for players to make it.
Being from Maui, Wilson didn’t have any great local high school athletics options, so David had the difficult conversation with Wilson and his family about what it would take for him to get noticed. David had just two simple steps.
Step one: Go to St. Louis High School.
Once again, easier said than done. St. Louis High School — the premier institute for Hawaiian football, producing players such as Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa — was on Oahu, a few islands over from Maui, and there weren’t any great solutions to the transportation problem.
“It was hard because we didn’t know where he was gonna live that first year,” Colegrove said. “So the first year, for a while, I was running him to the airport and he would literally fly to school at four o’clock in the morning, catch the bus, go to class, go to practice and come back at the end of the day.”
This started during the summer at his school orientation. Fortunately, Wilson and his mother met some kind teammates.
“We ended up meeting some people while he was at practice,” Colegrove said, laughing a little while reminiscing. “They realized that we were flying in everyday so they offered for him to stay the night at their house. And I was like, ‘He would need to spend the whole year,’ and so he ended up staying there.”
While Wilson attended St. Louis with an improved commute, he continued to hone his skills on the football field and his speed on the track, always with David’s lessons in mind.
Step one: complete.
Step two: Keep listening to David.
“Because of the training that we’ve done, after going to the (St. Louis) track practice and listening to what the coach has to say, from what he’s telling me, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” David said. “And so I would give (Wilson) a schedule of what to do. He knows what the workouts are, what to look for, mechanically especially.”
Throughout high school, Wilson and David kept in contact. David was invested in Wilson. See, David doesn’t just accept anyone — he hand picks the athletes he works with, only choosing those with the will to work hard and the right mindset to accomplish their goals.
“When it comes to Roman, even in sixth or seventh grade, I knew that his desire was easy to work with,” David said. “… I wasn’t sure how tall he was going to be. I didn’t know if he had what it took at that time. But I knew that just because of what he’s shown was enough for me to say ‘OK, I’ll train this kid.’ ”
When David does select an athlete, he’s there for them, helping them through each step to reach the next level. So David and Wilson continued to communicate throughout high school, and when Wilson was back home on Maui, David worked with him.
Regardless of whether it was for track or football, David was ready to help Wilson tweak his mechanics and get faster any way he could. If that was shaving off tenths of seconds in sprints heading into state finals, he was going to help. If that was making Wilson’s acceleration and deceleration at the top of routes better, he was going to help with that, too. As long as Wilson was willing to put in the work, David was willing to help — Wilson just had to keep listening.
“From even what his mom tells me is that he trusted everything I said,” David said. “I’m not God, but from what the mom is telling me man, he definitely makes sure he follows everything I say.”
And it all paid off.
In Nike’s The Opening regional camp in the spring of Wilson’s junior year, everything he worked on with David showed in just 40-yards of grass. Clocking in at 4.37, Wilson went from under-recruited to a star.
“He had about five to seven offers at the time, and Cal was his only Power Five offer,” Colegrove said. “After he ran the 4.3 40, he ended up with 28 Division I offers.”
One of those was Michigan. And after it all shook out, Wilson chose the Wolverines, sending him on just one more flight — this time to Ann Arbor.
David’s method worked once again, and combined with Wilson’s inherent ability, it created Michigan’s fastest man.