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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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The Warriors break off into groups. Diamond usually practices with the receivers, but today he is with the defense. "Why? We short!" explains a coach. "That's how it is sometimes."

In a huge surprise, Diamond shines at linebacker. He pursues quarterbacks and running backs with a ferocity he's never before displayed on a football field. When a ballcarrier comes into Diamond's vicinity, Diamond rams his forearms into the kid's chest. FOOM! The runner's head snaps back, and he falls to the ground. Diamond stands over him, staring down as though he wishes he had killed him.

"Diamond showing tremendous heart," says one coach. "He's scrappy. He's tough. He's playin'."

When Diamond takes a break, he, too, is excited. "On defense I get to hit somebody," he says. "I get to hit the person, then I get to mash 'em, then I get to slam 'em. When you hit somebody, they get afraid of you."

On Saturday the Warriors lose again but find a defensive star. Diamond plays well at his new position, linebacker, throwing himself into tackles, not making any mistakes. He's no longer a five-play-minimum guy—he lines up for almost every defensive snap.

In late October, on an overcast Wednesday, a soft breeze rustles the palm trees shading Hadley Park's Olympic-sized pool. The last game of the Warriors' season is Saturday. The mood in the park matches the gray clouds swirling overhead. Many of the parents say that Johnson's got to go. A losing season? In a park with all this talent? Not acceptable. For weeks now parents have been sidling up to Sam Johnson (no relation to Brian), the Warriors' founder and main administrator. "I feel for him," says Sam as he walks over to watch Brian's Warriors practice one last time.

"This is the last Wednesday practice of the year," Chico shouts to his Warriors, who are stretching in sloppy lines. "Tighten up! Get hyped!"

Without warning, the temperature seems to plunge 10� in 10 minutes. Cheerleaders practicing near the parking lot halt construction of a human pyramid to pull on sweatshirts. The Warriors keep practicing. A coach tells Antwane to call a running play. At the snap Diamond, playing defense, breaks through the offensive line to tackle Antwane before he can make the handoff. Diamond then jumps up and looks over to Pete Johnson, the defensive coordinator.

"How was that?" Diamond asks with a smile before he lines up for another snap. He then makes another tackle. And another.

"Last practice he said, 'Watch me! Watch me!' " says Pete. Diamond's mother doesn't come to practices anymore. His uncle Durell doesn't show up, either. "He has nobody to watch him play. It means something for me to watch him. He needs that."

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