Walsall favourite 'Sumo' battled mental health and weight problems to lose seven stone and now helps others

When Maurice Willetts stepped on the scales on January 1 2020, he knew things had to change.

Maurice Willetts at his heaviest
Maurice Willetts at his heaviest

The 39-year-old from Willenhall came in at 27 stone 11 lbs – his heaviest yet – but his biggest challenge was yet to come.

Known to his friends as 'Mozza', the larger than life character is recognisable around Walsall as 'Sumo', an unlikely hero at the Bescot Stadium in the mid-1990's.

From the ages of 11 to 15 years old, Willetts played for the Junior Saddlers, part of the club's community scheme, and ended up playing in goal during the half-time entertainment at first team games.

Maurice Willetts, aged 13, in goal during half-time at the Bescot Stadium

He was nicknamed Sumo by the Saddlers faithful and enjoyed his teenage years as a local favourite.

But as he now approaches his 40th birthday later this year, Willetts reflects on the demons he has faced and conquered.

In 2018, his sister Kristina died from cancer, setting him on a difficult path with his mental and physical health.

At the start of 2020 he realised how his weight had spiralled and began exercising, until his father – Maurice Snr – was diagnosed as terminally ill. From there, Willetts was battling his mind as well as his weight.

"I got involved with the Walsall FC Community Programme and did 26 consecutive 10k walks – finishing the last one at the Bescot Stadium and raising some money," Willetts said.

"That inspired me to keep going and I did some more walks to raise money.

"But on October 28 last year I tried to end my own life. I'd had enough. Everything had got away from me.

"With lockdown, the issues with my dad and not grieving properly for my sister, I was in a bad place.

Maurice Willetts at his heaviest

"I spent time in hospital, had counselling and opened up on social media, which helped me recover.

"Then with lockdown coming again I had to keep my fitness going after losing five stone.

"I was finding it hard walking on my own so again through social media I got people out walking with me and now I'm at my lowest at 21 stone 1 lbs.

"It's been a long 14, 15 months and I've had hiccups along the way, but I've had the support to get through it."

Losing almost seven stone is an incredible feat for anyone and Willets now has the foundations in place for more success.

Alongside former Walsall player Wayne Thomas, and his Ace Academy, they have set up a walking club.

Maurice outside the Banks's Stadium

The early hours club, on a Monday and Friday at Walsall Arboretum, is aiming to help anyone in need of physical and mental health support.

"I'd never dream about jogging part of 5ks, I've never jogged in my life," Willetts added.

"Recently, for the first time, I jogged the first 2k of the walk. These achievements might seem minimal to some but to me they're absolutely huge.

"If I can just help one person, that's a massive gain. I don't want to see anyone as low as I was. It was scary.

"I'm never going back to the low I was at and if I can help people that's an achievement in itself.

"Wayne has been absolutely massive in helping me.

Maurice with former Walsall player Wayne Thomas

"We have daily interactions and he sends me messages looking out for me and keeping me focused.

"Now, I want to inspire others to get out and exercise. I couldn't do anything before, so if I can do it, anyone can do it.

"The aim is to get people out for the walking club on a Monday and Friday morning, between six and seven in the morning, at Walsall Arboretum.

"You don't need to be fitness fanatics, every ability is welcome. Walsall Arboretum is on our doorstep and is an unbelievable, beautiful place.

"It helps massively with mental and physical health. If I can now stop anyone from getting to where I was, that's a bonus in my eyes."

Willetts' years as Sumo shaped his formative years as he became somewhat of a local celebrity.

Maurice Willetts almost seven stone lighter

More than 25-years on from his time between the sticks, Willetts still has fond memories of his spell on the Bescot turf.

"My parents used to watch Walsall and we went home and away and I started playing for the Junior Saddlers on a Saturday morning," he said.

"At half-time for the first team matches they used to have an American-style shoot-out and I was goalkeeper.

"I always had to go to the away end and had banter with them. You can imagine what they were like and what they shouted at me, when they see a chubby kid running towards their goal.

"The Walsall fans then nicknamed me Sumo and chanted my name. I embraced it and loved it.

Maurice Willetts

"I did signings with the Walsall players at the Saddlers Centre, I did photoshoots for the club around the 1995 promotion and even advertised the balti pies when they first started doing those.

"I spent some good years as a teenager doing that, and I'm not even a Walsall fan!

"I support Liverpool but with Walsall being my local team and the time I had with them, they're my second club and I watched them home and away for years. I even went to some games before lockdown too."

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