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Diamond In the Rough
Robert Andrew Powell
October 06, 2003
Amid a maelstrom of poverty, drugs and murder, Diamond Pless pursues his dream of playing in the NFL. But first he's got to learn his multiplication tables
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October 06, 2003

Diamond In The Rough

Amid a maelstrom of poverty, drugs and murder, Diamond Pless pursues his dream of playing in the NFL. But first he's got to learn his multiplication tables

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A week later the Warriors have their first workout in pads. Diamond practices in long black socks with his name running down the shins in yellow felt letters. His practice jersy is an oversized T-shirt that drapes below his knees. He is about four feet tall, small for his age, and—further hampering his image as a fierce Warrior—his helmet sits back on his head, making it look as if he is constantly scanning the sky for airplanes.

As the players stretch and adjust to their new gear, a young woman in stiletto heels wobbles toward a Warriors coach standing on the sidelines. She is Shakitha Wallace, Diamond's mother. Her straight hair is pulled back in a ponytail, revealing a pair of malevolent eyeballs inked on the back of her neck—a modern twist on a mother's classic threat that she has eyes in the back of her head.

"He's a little behind," she says of Diamond. She tells the coach that her son needs to be better coached than he was last year on the 85-pound team; she says "those fools" weren't sharp enough to recognize Diamond's talent. The coach nods. "We don't coach here," he tells her. "We teach them the game."

"That's why we here," she says, pulling a can of strawberry soda out of her purse.

Diamond has asked to be a wide receiver this season. Actually, the request came from Wallace. Her son, she insists, is blessed with blazing speed. If the coaches are smart, she tells them repeatedly, they'll harness this speed. To make sure they do, Wallace is a fixture at Warriors practices.

"She tough on Diamond," Johnson's 11-year-old daughter, Sha-nise, says. "She thinks he run fast—real fast—but to me he don't."

A few minutes later Johnson lines players up for passing plays. Diamond is instructed to sprint 15 yards downfield, then turn and make a catch. On hike! Diamond takes off. When he runs, he doesn't move his arms—while the rest of his body bounces and rattles downfield, his thin limbs are cocked and locked at the elbows, like the prongs on a forklift. As the ball spirals through the air, he circles beneath it but never brings his hands together. The ball bounces at his feet.

A coach pulls Diamond aside. "Gotta get this down, Diamond. Right now you lost."

Foom! it's a short word used here to describe a collision on a football field. It's said quickly, like an explosion.

The Warriors get their first FOOM! during their first practice in full pads, when a coach gathers the players for a Hamburger Drill. In this drill two boys lie on their backs, about seven yards apart; one of them has a ball. On go! both boys flip over, leap to their feet, and the boy without the ball tries to tackle the one who has it. The runner does not try to avoid the would-be tackier; instead he tries to knock him over.

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