After putting Weaver through a workout, an assistant coach told Norton that the kid could run, he was a real athlete, and he had potential. When Norton quizzed Weaver on his background—why wasn't he recruited out of high school?—Weaver simply told him he was a late bloomer. "I'm just looking for a chance," he said.
It was no trick to enroll at Pierce under McKelvey's name. J.C.'s are in the business of producing enrollment; high school graduation is often not required. In fact, at Pierce nothing is required but tuition and a Social Security number. At first Weaver made up a number. Later, says Weaver, on a visit to Salinas, he simply asked McKelvey for his Social Security number, and McKelvey gave it to him (McKelvey would not confirm nor deny this either). Back at Pierce, Weaver amended his number to that of McKelvey. Using his student I.D., he also set up a checking account in McKelvey's name. "I know that's bad," Weaver says. "But I never got a credit card in his name or took out any loans. I wasn't going to do that." All he had in McKelvey's name was a Pierce I.D. and a bank ATM card.
Whoever he was, he was industrious. He earned his tuition money and more waiting tables at the Chart House in Malibu, working there four nights a week under his real name. Crossing from Malibu back into the San Fernando Valley, he became a work-ethic monster named Ron McKelvey. "When the team got done lifting weights," Norton says, "he'd still be lifting. On off days, when we weren't doing anything, he was encouraging other guys on the team to work out so they could get better. If nobody went, he'd go run by himself."
More than that, he inspired a trust. Says Norton, "You could give Ron a $100 bill, send him to the store for a penny piece of bubble gum, he'd come right back with the gum and the $99.99 change."
Only a handful of people knew of his deception. Not his parents, who had assumed he was in Los Angeles working. Only his sister, Bonita Money, who lived in nearby Granada Hills at the time, a few friends from home and two Pierce players were in on the secret, and the con remained airtight.
But the most amazing thing of all was that Weaver got better as a football player. He was no kind of tackier—"I felt if you just ran into somebody hard enough," Weaver says, "that would do the trick"—but his speed and his strength increased significantly. At Pierce his 40 time dropped to 4.47 and his bench press increased to 325 pounds. He made some awful gaffes, says Norton, even costing Pierce a game or two with blown coverages. But his athletic ability was undeniable.
While the Brahmas finished only 2-8 in Weaver's second season at Pierce—his sixth season of college football—he was all-state, and schools in the Pac-10 and the WAC, as well as Texas, expressed interest. It was a flabbergasting development for Weaver. "I'm thinking to myself, I can actually play in the NFL," he says.
As for beating the system at Texas, that was no more difficult than it was to enroll at Pierce. Weaver was recruited by the defensive backs coach, and his associate's degree (in McKelvey's name) from Pierce rendered any high school grades and standardized test scores irrelevant. He didn't have to beat the system, he was in the system. As it turned out, he didn't star at Texas during the '95 season. He didn't even play that much, getting onto the field for little more than 100 downs, half of those on special teams. John Bianco, a publicist at Texas, remembers that Weaver got beat for a touchdown in a 48-7 win over Texas Tech. "He cost us a shutout," says Bianco. Still, Bianco admits, "He's a great athlete, one of the fastest guys on the team." And he turned out to be a pretty fair student while majoring in kinesiology.
But for Weaver, it wasn't about starring on the field. Just playing was the point. "My lifelong dream was to play football," he says, "and I wanted it to last forever." He even asked his position coach, Steve Bernstein, about the chance to redshirt next season. "It meant another year I could play, another year longer. You know, playing football is a reason not to grow up. You stay young forever. It seems I've always been 23." For a long time, anyway.
It all came apart when The Californian, Weaver's hometown paper, published a story on Dec. 30 saying that Texas player Ron McKelvey was actually Ron Weaver, age 30, playing his seventh season of college football. Sports editor Richard Martin will not say who tipped him about Weaver. Texas initially backed Weaver, who maintained his innocence and promised to provide coach John Mackovic with a birth certificate. But he could not sustain the ruse. His identity revealed, Weaver fled the team's hotel in New Orleans for his sister's apartment in Hollywood, while Texas lashed out at him and accused him of taking bets from other Longhorns (which may be true, though even Texas says that the dollar amount in question is minuscule).