Duane Rankin
Montgomery Advertiser
Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, of Montgomery, shows his tattoos which are dedicated to his friends Rod Scott and Shaquille Johnson.

“It definitely was painful, but it was something I really wanted to do (for) my tribute to them. Something I wanted to live with the rest of my life.”  Lyndell “Mack” Wilson


TUSCALOOSA — Ten hours.

That’s how long Lyndell "Mack" Wilson laid on his stomach to have a tattoo artist complete a project that is healing his soul and motivating him to achieve greatness.

Wilson’s close friend Rod Scott and cousin Shaquille Johnson died within a year of each other. Scott, 17, passed away from injuries suffered in a car wreck March 4, 2016.

Johnson, 20, was shot and killed in Montgomery on Feb. 4, 2017.

The childhood friends meant everything to Wilson. They’re gone, but their spirits live within him through a tattoo tribute at the bottom of his back, one that took artist Michael Jordan 10 hours over three days in July to complete.

Tattoo artist Michael Jordan drew the tattoos on Mack Wilson's back in tribute to fallen loved ones Rod Scott and Shaquille Johnson.

“He almost wanted to cry,” Jordan said. “He just smiled.”

Wilson is portrayed in his No. 30 University of Alabama uniform, arms raised to the sky, with Scott and Johnson above him in their respective Robert E. Lee High basketball and football uniforms.

“Those guys played a tremendous role in my life,” Wilson said. “Growing up with them. Learning from them. Working hard with them and stuff like that. That kind of motivates me every day to go out and compete and to go out and play hard because I know if they were here, they’d be doing the same thing.”

At the bottom of the tattoo, “My Brother’s Keeper,” is written in script.

“It means a lot to me,” said Johnson’s mom, Lashunda Powell. “It had to mean a lot to him for him to go through that pain to do it.”

Seeing her son and Scott as Wilson's guardian angels, she explains how Wilson views them in his voice.

Months before Jordan inked Wilson’s latest tattoo and just days after Johnson died, graphic artist Randall Cotton created artwork using the same Wilson picture.

A Crimson Tide fan, Cotton placed Scott and Johnson’s heads above Wilson with halos and light shining down on Wilson.

“I was glad I could do something for him given the awful situation he was going through,” Cotton said.

The visual concept is the same, but Wilson had a grander vision for the tattoo.

He first had Jordan ink “Last Hope” across the top of his back and shoulders in script with a skyline of buildings representing Montgomery with “The Gump” written in it.

Wilson said Jordan took seven hours to do it.

“Even if it’s getting to the point that I’m making a wrong decision in life, whether it’s good or bad or whatever, I know Shaquille and Rod are going to walk me through it. They’re going to tap me on that back to let me know when I’m doing something wrong.”

The message is connected to the tribute — and the meaning behind it is fueling Wilson’s NFL dreams.

“Coming from where I’m from, Tulane Court and King Hill, I feel like I’m the last person who has got the chance to do something big. I’ve got the approval from the older guys and O.G.s and people like that back in the hood that’s like, ‘You’re the last one. You’ve got to make it.’”

Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson (30) In first half action of the Camping World Kickoff at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday September 1, 2018.

The junior linebacker will be eligible for the upcoming draft.

“I’m just staying humble throughout the whole process and make sure I’m pursing my dreams to get to the next level,” said Wilson, a preseason first-team All-SEC and second-team All-America selection. 

The powerful tribute’s symbolism digs deep into Wilson’s soul just as the needle pierced his bronze skin. He’s vowed to carry his lost loved ones, family, friends and neighborhood on his back to greater heights.

“Just stay on that line,” advises Scott’s father, Rodney Scott. “I don’t want him to go outside of that line. He needs to stay focused on what he’s doing. If he does that and he do the right things and believe in God and everything. Hopefully the next step will be the NFL. That’s what we’re all pushing for.”

Wilson has often said this is a big year for him. It must be if Mrs. Powell, an Auburn fan, plans to don his jersey and come watch him play this season.

“I’ll do it for Mack,” she said. “I’ll do it for him because he’s out there playing his heart out for himself and as a tribute to the loved one that he’s lost. I’m not a Bama fan, but I’ll wear it for him.”  

To understand why Wilson went to such great lengths, you must go back to how the trio bonded.

Johnson, Scott and Wilson played basketball for Rod’s dad and Darryl “Quake” Whetstone starting at ages 7 and 8. They’d spend the night at Scott’s house before traveling to AAU tournaments.

Rodney Scott remembers Wilson as the jokester, the outgoing one. Wilson, now 6 feet 2 inches tall and 239 pounds, called himself the big brother of that team because he was literally “the biggest one.”

Scott and Johnson were smaller, slier and sneakier, but the elder Scott noticed early a genuine connection between the three.

“They all enjoyed each other,” he said. “They all respected each other.”

Scott and Johnson helped shape Wilson, who became a five-star football recruit at G.W. Carver High. Mrs. Powell said Wilson could rely on their quiet strength and humility.

Rod Scott is remembered during a jersey retirement ceremony at Lee High School in Montgomery on Thursday May 12, 2016. Scott died on March 4 from injuries suffered in a car accident. Mickey Welsh/Advertiser

Wilson knew if he got out of line, “they’re going to be there like, no cuz, no little brother, you don’t need to do that,” she said.

When Scott and Johnson died, both tragically and unexpectedly, it shook Wilson at his core.

Scott was riding with friends to Birmingham for a Jefferson Davis High girls’ state tournament game when the car flipped over in rainy conditions.

As for Johnson, Wilson was resting when his cellphone rang.

“My little cousin called, and he was like, ‘(Johnson) just got shot,’” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘What?’ I couldn’t believe it. So then like, 30 minutes later, my uncle called and was like, he’s dead. It was just shocking. I couldn’t believe it for a minute until I had talked to his mom. That’s when it really hit me.”

Reliving that remains painful for Wilson. They were more than just a close friend and relative.

They were his brothers.

Wilson can’t Facetime with Johnson or shoot hoops with Scott anymore.

“To have two friends/brothers leave you, it’s hard on him because friends don’t come like that,” Mrs. Powell said.

When Johnson died, Wilson had hundreds of people reach out. One was Cotton, a Columbia, South Carolina, resident who’s been creating artwork of Tide players for 18 months.

A year ago, Cotton did one of Wilson and sent it to him through social media.

“He messaged me and said thank you and was extremely kind about it,” Cotton said.

That inspired Cotton to draw more pictures of him. When Cotton learned of Johnson’s death, he immediately began creating something special for Wilson.

Randall Cotton created tribute to the memory of Rod Scott and Shaq Johnson for Alabama junior Mack Wilson.

“I talked to Mack the morning of Feb. 5 after it happened to send him my condolences and worked on it all day to try and get it to him as fast as I could,” Cotton said.

What emerged was a touching visual the world saw hanging on the wall of Wilson’s off-campus apartment on ESPN’s “Training Days: Rolling With The Tide” series last month.

“It means a lot to me,” said Wilson, who pointed it out on the episode and explained its significance.

That image moved him again at Johnson’s funeral.

Wilson didn’t know he was scheduled to speak until seeing his name on the homegoing program. Pulling himself together, Wilson paid his respects — with Cotton’s tribute on display in a slideshow presentation.

“That’s when it really hit me,” Wilson said.

Months later, Jordan created the tattoo tribute.

“When that tragedy happened with (Johnson), that really hurt my baby,” said Mack Wilson's mom, Sandra Wilson. “This is his way of coping and making him feel good and knowing his cousin/brother is watching over him.”

Jordan has done tattoos for former Alabama players like Derrick Henry and current ones like Jalen Hurts.

But like Cotton, he’s connected with Wilson and inked several tattoos for him with one being of his mom's face on his arm.

“He’s successful, but he’s still humble,” Jordan said.

Like Scott and Johnson.

Randall Cotton said this is the first creation he did of Mack Wilson that the Alabama linebacker messaged him back on.

“That’s what drew me to him,” Jordan continued. “I know a lot of football players for the U of A, but there’s just something about Mack. When I first met him, it was just his vibe and his energy. He’s like a regular person. Cool dude. Just real laid back.”

Like Scott and Johnson.  

Jordan said he and Wilson talked about tattoo tribute “for a long time.” Once Jordan completed the project, he said Wilson nearly shed a tear.

Then Wilson took photo after photo to get the perfect one to show the world. He tweeted it last week.

“He took a thousand pictures and still took one more and sent it to me,” Jordan said. “He was like, ‘Man, I like this right here.’”

Mack Wilson lost two of the most important people in his life at an early age, but he’s persevered.

Still, he thinks about them all the time.

“They’re dead and gone, and I wish they were here to be able to do the same thing and pursing their dreams like me,” Wilson said. “When I want to give up, they definitely hit my mind and they push me to the next level to go harder.”   

Mrs. Wilson said there’s no stopping her son once something tugs at his heart.

Now Scott and Johnson will always be with him.

Wilson gladly endured the pain to make sure of that.