back at the house on Butler Street, three members of the University of Wisconsin Defensive Line-- Hawthorne has gone out for dinner--sit on the sectional sofa, eating pizza and playing Madden 2005. James has just fed a live rat to his six-foot boa constrictor, Cujo. His room is a mass of laundry spread on the floor next to his queen-size bed. There is an empty bottle of Hennessy on his nightstand and brochures for Hummer SUVs beside the Toshiba wide-screen. Do his linemates resent that James is already figuring how to spend his impending NFL signing bonus?
"I'd be doing the same thing," says Jefferson, a business major. Such disparities are a fact of life in big-time college football. While your roommate might be planning to buy a $60,000 SUV, you're scheming, like Welsh, how to get a few thousand more miles out of your Sentra.
They are all here on scholarships, trading their athletic prowess for an education, the opportunity to play in front of 80,000 fans on fall Saturdays, the chance to shine so that they might make it to the next level. They've each made the solitary journey undertaken by young minority athletes--Jefferson from Chicago, Welsh from Houston, Hawthorne from Hamden, James from South Florida--on the road to success. They don't talk about it much with each other, Welsh says, but that experience, too, is a tie that binds the four of them. "It's not us against the world," says Welsh, "but we all have this same history. We just kind of look at each other and know it." Jefferson nods in agreement as he stands up to make sure the door to James's bedroom is shut so that Cujo can't get loose in the apartment if it slithers out of its cage.
"How about the Snake Pit?" a reporter suggests.
James shakes his head. "The University of Wisconsin Defensive Line. We'll stick with that."