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Educating Willie
Gary Smith
December 27, 1993
Willie Roaf's mother wanted him to be a star student, but instead he became a star athlete.
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December 27, 1993

Educating Willie

Willie Roaf's mother wanted him to be a star student, but instead he became a star athlete.

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Sports books. Maybe they were the ticket. Maybe they would entice him to read. Andree laid them on his pillow. They ended up on the bedroom floor—"I don't think he's read a book cover to cover in his life," she says, "unless Spiderman counts"—lost in the snowdrifts of clothes, clean and dirty ones mixed. A sniff in the morning was how Willie selected his attire. He would race out of the house 15 minutes late for school, half unbuttoned, all wrinkled, shirttail Happing, collar stained (another bad sniff job) and return at dusk, peeling off his wardrobe as he went, jacket in one room, sweater in the next, then shoes, socks, wallet. "Like an animal dropping his spoor," snorts Andree. "You know, that's what I don't understand. Is he really as great in football as everyone says? It amazes me. He has no work ethic. Whenever I see him, he's lying around the house eating pizza and watching videos. Does he just do that here, to bug me?"

He weighed 230 coming out of high school. Only two local universities offered him scholarships. He chose Louisiana Tech. On the day he committed, Andree sat on the blue sofa in coach Joe Raymond Peace's office, "crying her heart out," recalls Peace, "because she was giving up her baby."

"Giving up mycliff baby?" says Andree. "I don't think that was it. Believe me, if I'd been dropping him off at Harvard that day, I wouldn't have been crying."

******

Willie? Willie Roaf? In jail?

Andree tumbled out of bed, threw on her clothes, jumped into her car and bolted to the Pine Bluff police station. Willie had never given anyone a lick of trouble; he was just a big ol' teddy bear, deaf to the howl of the streets. She walked inside and stopped. Both her boys, Willie and Andrew, were standing in a holding cell.

Willie blinked, still trying to piece it all together himself. Just a few days earlier Schrick Brown, a cousin who had been almost a brother to Willie when they were growing up, had been murdered as a result of a long-running feud. All Willie had planned to do the night he was arrested was go to the airport and pick up Andrew, who had flown in from the naval base in San Diego for Schrick's funeral. Suddenly, on the ride home, Andrew, also a close buddy of Schrick's and privy to the feud, spotted a friend of the shooting suspect's driving past.

"Follow him!" shouted Andrew. And all at once Willie, overcome by rage and grief for his cousin, was roaring down the road, ripping around corners, following the car—where? Directly into the parking lot of the Pine Bluff police! The youths in the other car leaped out and raced into the building, screaming, "The Roaf boys are gonna kill us! They got a gun!" and before Willie could squeak out a word, a wall of policemen was charging at him, shouting, "Get on the ground! Where's the gun?" and he was facedown on the asphalt with his arm wrenched behind his back.

There was no gun. Finally Andree untangled it all—it doesn't hurt to have a lawyer for a mom—and the police later .dropped the disorderly conduct charge, but Willie couldn't shake Schrick's death and his own arrest. After that the video store was as far as he wanted to go on weekend nights. "Never know who has a gun anymore," he told friends. On Fridays he would come home from college and sleep on the sofa just outside his parents' bedroom door, too spooked to sleep alone in the room that he and Schrick had shared. He ground his teeth so hard in his sleep that his father had to construct a plastic mouth guard.

Andree would close her book at 2 a.m. and look over at her son on the sofa. My god, he was growing mammoth lifting those weights at Louisiana Tech, slabbing on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle a year.

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