"Man," Johnson says to his wife, speaking softly. "Some of these boys, their lives are a living hell."
When Diamond Pless is asked about the best day of his life, he answers instantly. "The best day of my life was the day when I first saw football," his squeaky voice flowing so fast he sounds like a cassette tape on fast-forward. "It was on PlayStation—Madden NFL Football. So I saw that, and I was like, 'Hey, Dad, can I play?' So he showed me how. I liked playing it so much on the PlayStation, I asked if I could play it for real. He said, 'In about two years you're going to be able to play it.' And then I just waited. And I waited. Now I can play it."
Diamond never knew his biological father. Durell says the father was a star at a local high school, someone whose name would be recognized by any fan of Miami high school sports. He was known for his speed, a gift he displayed when he ran from Wallace after she became pregnant. By the time Diamond was born, Wallace had hooked up with a new man, Arthur Clarence Pless II, who was 18 when Diamond was born. Arthur Pless became the newborn's legal father.
Pless, or "Plex" as everybody calls him, also played football. Diamond wears number 33 for the Warriors, the same as Plex wore in high school. Plex didn't live with Wallace and Diamond, but on weekends and in the summer he would invite Diamond over to his house, about 10 miles away. In the backyard Diamond and Plex's four other sons were drilled on plays and formations. It was in that backyard that Diamond first learned how to tackle.
"He was so serious about football," Durell says of Plex. "He would have them in the backyard hitting early in the morning."
In 2000 Plex was convicted of charges relating to his work for the biggest drug gang in Liberty City, and he was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences in federal prison. He is serving his time in Terre Haute, Ind. Once a week, usually on Saturdays, he calls Diamond. "He asks about my football," Diamond says. "I ask him if he's eating healthy."
After losing to Palmetto, the Warriors rebound with a win and a tie over two traditionally weak teams. The Warriors head into their homecoming game with some momentum but little chance of making the playoffs.
Diamond has been a nonfactor all season. He gets into games for the five snaps every player is guaranteed, but not many more than that. He hasn't made a catch yet. Completing a pass at this level is difficult, and in Diamond's case the task is especially challenging because the quarterback never throws him the ball. Diamond's mother and uncle start missing his practices, and then his games.
"Now men, it's homecoming week," a coach tells the Warriors at the start of their Tuesday practice. "We not lost a homecoming game in I don't know how long. I don't care what our record is, we gonna beat Richmond in our house in front of our king and queen. You understand?"
"Yes, sir!" they yell back.