True Perseverance: The Incredible Story of Cameron Wellington-Knibbs

Photo courtesy of Cameron Wellington-Knibbs
Photo courtesy of Cameron Wellington-Knibbs


On April 25, 2017, 11-year-old Cameron Wellington-Knibbs’ life changed forever. After years of inconsistent living, loss, and a lack of opportunity, Wellington-Knibbs’ aunt and uncle decided that he needed a change in his life. This marked the day Wellington-Knibbs immigrated from St. Mary, Jamaica to Evanston, Illinois, the same town his aunt immigrated to many years earlier.

“I immigrated here for a better opportunity. That is the reason that all of our family wants to move here, to get away from Jamaica. Jamaica is a bad place,” said Wellington-Knibbs.

Cam’s displeasure for Jamaica was evident through his earnest tone. In the spring of 2022, as he was driving in Montego Bay, his perception of the country was unchanged. 

“I went back to [Jamaica] to visit my uncle and on my way to his house from the airport, I saw two police car chases. It was crazy,” recalls Wellington-Knibbs. 

Wellington-Knibbs was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica on May 6, 2005, into a family of just his mother and one sister. During a period when Jamaica’s ongoing crime struggle was at an all-time high, leading the world in murder rate, his mother worked hard to give him a fun and happy early childhood.

“Montego Bay was really fun. I was just a really hyper kid. I always wanted to run around and have fun. [My relatives] always say I was always bouncing around on the walls,” said Wellington-Knibbs.

At just three years old, Wellington-Knibbs was faced with a massive loss. His mother passed away. As three-year-old Cam was left with a sharp pain and the absence of the only guardian figure he had ever known, he needed someone in his life to support him. Wellington-Knibbs blames his father for not being there for him after such a big loss at such a young age.

“Honestly, it really was my father’s fault. My father wasn’t in my life. If he was in my life, I would have been [in the United States] since I was three, but instead, it was like a long journey, as my auntie says,” explained Wellington-Knibbs.

Instead of his father, Wellington-Knibbs’ Uncle Arthur stepped up and took him in as a son. After his uncle attended the funeral with the rest of Wellington-Knibbs’ family extended family, he took Cam with him back to his home in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.

Cam attended first, second, and third grade in St. Ann’s Bay, a town of just 13,000 people. He then moved to St. Mary, a parish consisting of over 100,000 people with his uncle. Similar to his mother, Wellington-Knibbs’ uncle worked courageously to give him a happy and healthy childhood, creating a special relationship between the two.  

“The relationship was like a father-son relationship. He was exactly like a dad to me,” said Wellington-Knibbs.

11 year old Wellington-Knibbs on the day of his adoption

When Wellington-Knibbs was 11 years old, his uncle’s expenses became too much for him to manage. His uncle contacted Wellington-Knibbs’ aunt, who was living in Evanston, Illinois. The two decided that it was best for Cam to immigrate to the United States and live with his aunt. On April 25, 2017, Cam was on his way to America.

Cam was ready for the change. In just eleven years in Jamaica, Cam had faced a ton of adversity. He prepared for the change by watching popular American television.

“I used to watch iCarly in Jamaica. That’s how I learned proper English,” said a laughing Cam.

In regards to education, Jamaica gave Wellington-Knibbs a decent foundation to work with, but it wasn’t on par with the Evanston schools. With a little assistance from District 65’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program,  Cam quickly caught up to where he needed to be for a 6th grader. 

“Education in Jamaica is phenomenal, but the schools I went to [in Jamaica] were not on the same level as the rest of the schools in Jamaica. [District 65] was going to put me in fifth grade but my auntie was not having it. I ended up having to take a class where I got a little bit of help to understand the new system and everything,” explained Wellington-Knibbs.

For Wellington-Knibbs, football quickly played a vital role in helping him fit into the Evanston culture and making new friends. A particular friend helped Wellington-Knibbs get involved with the game of football shortly after he moved to Evanston.

“Matthew Davies was my first friend in America. He taught me how to play basketball and football. There was a flag football league we wanted to do but he couldn’t do it because he had soccer. I ended up playing it anyway and then that’s how I fell in love with the game,” explained Wellington-Knibbs.

In eighth grade, when Wellington-Knibbs was ready to make the transition from flag to tackle football, his aunt was concerned about the high risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) injuries. After much pleading and convincing, Wellington-Knibbs’ aunt finally allowed him to play on Junior Wildkits, ETHS’ feeder football program. That decision would go on to open up so many doors for Cam.

Once Wellington-Knibbs arrived at ETHS, he joined the freshman football team in the fall, playing on both sides of the ball as a center and a defensive end. Cam was having a pretty good year until late in the season, when he suffered an ankle sprain in practice. The injury kept him out for several weeks. But when the last game of the season against Stevenson rolled around, Cam couldn’t miss it.

“I begged my coach to long snap and eventually he said, ‘yeah, you can do it. Just don’t mess up.’ I got in my long snapping stance and as soon as I got there, my ankle popped. I wanted to cry so bad but I knew I got myself in the situation. I had to just long snap it… It ended up being a pretty bad long snap,” Wellington-Knibbs teased.

Wellington-Knibbs worked his way up the ETHS football program and earned a spot on varsity his junior year. Through on and off playing time, he got to know the system and the pace of play of varsity football, setting him up perfectly for a big senior season.

Wellington-Knibbs’ potential and performance began to crystalize in his final season at ETHS. After teammate and starting center Eli Hardegree went down in the opening game, head coach Mike Burzawa called on Cam’s name to fill the job. He stepped up and embraced the opportunity in front of him. Wellington-Knibbs went on to play all over the line and had a tremendous year.

“Cam always had a smile on his face. He’s got the heart of a lion,” said Coach Burzawa. “He was a pleasure to coach and he did all the little things on and off the field. He made no excuses. He always accepted responsibility when things got tough.”

When junior safety Jacques Philippe made it to the varsity team, Wellington-Knibbs made a significant impact welcoming him onto the team. As the older teammate, Cam helped Philippe feel the brotherhood of ETHS’ varsity football team.

Even though Cam doesn’t play the same position as me or anything, he was just super welcoming. He has the kind of energy you want to build a football program around. Just him being friendly really helped me feel like a part of the team,” said Philippe.

After the season, Wellington-Knibbs started to think about playing at the next level. He did what all under recruited athletes do: network on Twitter. After ‘sliding into the UW-Platteville coaches DMs,’ the coaches liked what they saw in Wellington-Knibbs’ tape and fell in love with his contagious enthusiasm. UW-Platteville offered him a scholarship and Wellington-Knibbs jumped on the opportunity in December of 2022.

“Cam worked very hard to earn that scholarship. Whether it was being at practice early or just working hard over the summer, he deserves all that he’s getting,” said Philippe.

While Wellington-Knibbs is stoked to play football at the collegiate level, going to college and furthering his education means so much more to him. 

“I’m ready to hit people already, but I am also really looking forward to excelling and learning new knowledge,” said Wellington-Knibbs.

Cam faced the injustices of the U.S. immigration system firsthand. He believes the education system is integral to immigrants succeeding in America. As a future history major at UW-Platteville, Cam is excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the United States immigration policy and its past. Once Wellington-Knibbs graduates college, he wants to get involved in helping immigrants going through similar difficulties he went through.

“I want to help immigrants achieve their dreams,” expressed Wellington-Knibbs. “I am just trying to change the world.”

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