The dorm had characters sprinkled throughout, and each of them had a story. There was Eddie Violet, the muscular boxer who oddly enough played trumpet in the band. His tall roommate, also in the band, was a tobacco farmer who had raised 4H chickens each year since he was eight. There was Kevin Miller, a blond guitar player from Indiana who never slept. Then there was Kevin Brown, who was already being called “Downtown Kevin Brown”, weighing in at well over 300 pounds and standing 6’2”. Downtown liked to knit, listen to ’80s music, and he drove a white Chevy pickup truck that was smaller than he was and leaned to the left as he careened through the downtown area of Music City.
It was a safe bet none of them had a history like Willy’s.
“So tell me the story,” Joey said to Willy as they sat in the pizzeria watching Sports Center and eavesdropping on the locals.
“The long story. You said it was long story. You can tell me.”
“I’d rather not. It’s not good conversation,” Willy said. He looked to the television screen.
Joey sat and waited. He didn’t ask again, but he didn’t say anything else either. Finally, Willy turned around and faced his friend.
“Please don’t repeat it. I know anyone can find out. I mean, people might already know. I’m certain Vandy does already.”
“I’m not going to say anything.”
“Okay, the scar. When I was at Memphis, I used to go run around at night. I’m not much of a drinker. I never have. I don’t care if people drink, really, but I do like to get out and go to clubs. Meet the ladies. That sort of thing.
“I’m out one night. On Beale Street. It’s really late. Things are gettin’ freaky. I’m gettin’ tired. I decide to cut out. I go outside and I walk by this alley, and there’s this guy. He’s got this girl pushed up against a wall, and I can see it’s not good, you know? He’s got his forearm on her neck, and he’s pointing his finger right in her face. I can’t hear them, but I see her face. She’s shrinking back from him. She’s crying. Scared as hell. So I yell ‘Hey, stop!’, but he didn’t even hear me. He’s enraged.
“I go down the alley and yell again. I said ‘Leave her alone’. I get right up on them before he looks at me. His eyes are crazy. He’s crazy. I pushed him away, and before I know it he comes at me, grabs me, tries to hit me and I block a punch or two. I get his shirt and spin him down, away from me, on the ground. He comes right back up. I think I hit him once, but he kept coming.” Willie paused, lost in thought as if he was reliving the moment. Then he continued. “He grabs me around the neck, kind of with his whole arm, and we’re tangled up. I remember this ‘click’ sound, and then it was like fire, right in the middle of my stomach.
“I doubled over and they were gone. My hand is full of blood. There’s people coming into the alley, people screaming. God, I was bleeding so bad. Then, there’s an ambulance. I wake up in the hospital. They said I was going to live, but, you know, everybody’s acting so weird.”
“So you tried to help and the guy cut you? Why is that bad?”
“I’m not finished. So, the second or third day, this detective comes in and wants to ask me questions. I figured they’re going to try to catch this guy who cut me, who beat up this girl. He wants to know what happened, and I told him. Then he says the girl told him I was raping her. Her ‘boyfriend’ had stepped in to stop me. That’s what she’s saying. When I finally got out of the hospital, they arrest me, book me, take me to jail.
“By the time I get things cleared up, in court, I’ve lost my scholarship, a half year of school, and I’m out of there. I was innocent. The charges were dropped. There wasn’t even a trial. The guy goes free, Joey. He never does a day. I have my life ruined. All because I tried to help. I didn’t try to rape anyone, Joey.”
“Willy, I believe you.”
“Joey, you don’t know me. I appreciate it. But, you know, I just don’t talk about it anymore. I know that’s why Michaels was hesitant. I know tomorrow, he’s going to give me an ultimatum, and I’m fine with that. I didn’t do anything. I’ve never been in any trouble.”
“Then let’s move on. Fresh start. It’s over.”
“It’ll never really be over. Joey, I could’ve already been on there.” He motioned to the sports program.
Willy eased his chair back and looked at the TV screen and watched Sports Center, maybe imagining they were talking about him. A cloud had descended over him.
“I got recruited by everybody. Notre Dame, USC – out west not South Carolina, LSU, Alabama. Everybody. Grandma wanted me close to home. I went to Memphis. It’s the biggest signing day, ever. Five star goes to Memphis. I can play close to home and make it. I know I can. Then the night. I should never have gone out that night.”
They walked back to the dorm and went inside and up to Willy’s room. No one was there, and they plopped down on the sofa and turned ESPN on again. Neither said much and finally Joey went back to his room to rest for tomorrow. It seemed as though the day would be big. They had much work to do.
When Joey and Willy got to Michaels’ office, the team’s quarterback, a redshirt sophomore named Ronnie Couch who had played in ten games last year and was more of a runner than a passer, and the team’s All-SEC safety and return guy Mark Dennison , a senior from Gadsden, Alabama who was a pre-med major, sat waiting and watching film of Western Kentucky.
“Hey guys. We’re going to spend some time with you two today,” Couch said, locating a remote control and flipping off the tape.
“Joey, I guess they saw you pop me the other day,” Dennison said. “I know I felt it. They’re going to see if you can play. Even if you do really well this week you might not get much playing time unless we can get ahead, but they’re going to look. Guys with your speed don’t come along very often. You need to know at least a little bit about what to do on defense.”
Dennison began at once explaining the basics of the Cover-2 defense, while Couch explained some basic plays for Willy, who would have a much easier time grasping enough to get playing time. The game was easier for wide receivers and Willy had played in college before. Then, the group began to run some plays, Joey covering Willy. While Joey struggled each time to be in position, he made up for many of his deficiencies with pure, raw athletic ability. Even when Willy used his long frame to go up for a high pass, Joey managed to get up in the air and disrupt almost every one.
After almost two hours on the field, Michaels and another coach walked out and led the group back inside. The coaches kept Joey and Willy and sent the other players on their way.
“You’ll each get some reps this week. I doubt you’ll get into the game. But I’m going to go ahead and send a playbook with you. I know classes start this week, but your load is just going to be heavier. You need to know this.”
The coach dropped a blue three-ring binder containing the offensive set-up in front of Willy and the defensive white one in front of Joey. Then, Michaels handed them a plastic container filled with DVD’s.
“Guard these. They don’t get out of your sight. Understand?”
Both players nodded.
“See you at morning workout, and then at practice. Study. The DVD’s give you a chance to watch almost any play and watch it run correctly. Joey, there are some coverage packages and technique sections you need to pay close attention to.”
The Western Kentucky game was less than seven days away.