The single mother of Jaguars WR Allen Hurns is paying it forward

Allen Hurns' mother, Erica Wilson, shown with Hurns' brother Darryl, is putting together a black-tie event with 88 single mothers. Courtesy of Erica Wilson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Erica Wilson was sleeping peacefully one night two months ago when the idea jarred her awake.

She should organize a big night for single mothers. Get dressed up, get together, and get praised. More importantly, though, get encouragement and support.

The mother of Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns had a tough time raising two children by herself in Miami and wanted to find a way to help others in the same situation. That became, beginning with that night two months ago, Stepping into 88 Blessings, which will be held June 4 at the Salem Centre in Jacksonville.

It's a black-tie event open to the public that will feature former and current Jaguars players (including Hurns, who wears No. 88), a red-carpet arrival, a motivational speaker, gifts, and 88 single moms.

"We just want to really honor these ladies, make them feel like it's their night," Wilson said. "It's all about them. As single parents we don't get that. We don't get the chance to go out and let our hair down and just have a good time.

"It's all about pampering the ladies."

Wilson didn't get that luxury while raising her two sons. She had Daryl Wilson during her senior year of high school -- she didn't know she was pregnant until the fifth month and Daryl was born a month later at home on Christmas Day, weighing just 1 pound, 12 ounces -- and had Hurns when she was 19.

"I basically just built my life around my kids. I was sheltered. I didn't do anything. So this event, something like this could have helped me to know that, OK, your story is nothing compared to other stories." Erica Wilson

She had quit high school after giving birth to Daryl and had to work low-paying jobs. The money often wasn't enough. Sometimes there wasn't enough food for three, so she went hungry so her sons could eat. They bounced from apartment to apartment. At least one time they were evicted because she couldn't pay the rent.

Wilson tried to hide the situation from her sons, but they eventually understood what was happening.

"As you get older I realized we didn't have much," Hurns said. "As a kid you don't see that. You want toys and bikes and want-want-want. As I got older I started asking for less because I knew we didn't have much."

At one point, that included a place to stay. Wilson once spent two nights in her car after being evicted while her sons stayed with their father. The neighborhoods in which they lived weren't great, either. There were shootings and other violent crimes.

Wilson kept tight control of her sons to keep them out of trouble. She had help from her mother and the boys' paternal grandmother -- and football.

Both boys played football growing up, but to do so they had to bring home A's and B's. They were both honor-roll students in high school, too. Daryl played quarterback at Miramar High School and Hurns was a receiver at Carol City High School and earned a scholarship to the University of Miami.

By that point, Wilson's life had stabilized somewhat. She got her GED in 2003, and while Hurns was at Miami she was getting a certificate in sports management from Broward College. When Hurns signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jaguars in May 2014, she moved to Jacksonville with him.

Two years later, she's trying to offer single mothers the kind of help she never got.

"It would have really helped me a lot because back then I didn't see a way out," Wilson said. "I basically just built my life around my kids. I was sheltered. I didn't do anything. So this event, something like this could have helped me to know that, OK, your story is nothing compared to other stories. Other stories I have been reading [from some of the single mothers that will be at the event], my story is nothing compared to these ladies'."

That's why Wilson wanted to give the single mothers a fantastic night. She's getting help from Chanel Shorts, who is the wife of current Houston Texans and former Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts. She's providing dresses to the mothers through Chantel's Closet, which began in February 2015 as a way to provide free ball gowns to eighth-grade girls at a Jacksonville middle school for a cotillion.

The day of the event, the mothers will get their hair and makeup done free of charge.

Wilson said she knows other single mothers aren't as lucky as she has been. She hopes they benefit from Stepping into 88 Blessings and learn that it's important to talk about what they're going through and that it's OK to ask for help, which is something she didn't do out of embarrassment.

"In life we go through things and when God takes us through those things we have to pay it forward," Wilson said. "Let someone else know. Talk about it. It's an outlet. It releases you. It frees you.

"... That's why I told people when you go through things in life you need to tell someone because you may be blessing them. Your story will inspire so many others when they don't see a way out. They're at the end of their road, but just by hearing your story it gives them some type of a boost."

Only recently has Hurns learned the full extent of what his mother went through while raising him and Daryl, who also lives in Jacksonville and runs a paint-chipping business. Wilson kept some things from them for years but finally told them her complete story.

"It just made me respect her more," Hurns said. "I always thought she was strong."

Wilson wants to make sure other single mothers know they are, too.