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Troy Williamson article


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Vikings: A divine road for Troy Williamson

Mark Craig, Star Tribune

July 24, 2005 VIKE0724

Page: 1 2





PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. -- Roy Williamson and his younger brother, Troy, were similar in so many ways, except for the paths they traveled from this dusty little strip of Hwy. 278.


Two youngsters, growing up in a small home with eight other brothers and sisters, no father and too many temptations, their stories could become legendary lessons for future generations in this corner of Aiken County.


Troy ultimately changed his delinquent ways, overcame life-threatening burns and built a life of fame and impending fortune as a star receiver at the University of South Carolina and seventh overall pick by the Vikings in this year's NFL draft.


Roy, who was older by two years, lost his second chance one Sunday night 10 years ago. The stolen car he took for a joy ride spun out of control and rolled into the local fire station, killing him at age 14.


Troy wasn't in the car with Roy that day but knows he could have met a similar fate. That remains a sobering thought for the now 22-year-old Troy, who comes to Minnesota as the key piece in the Randy Moss trade and eventually will be expected to fill the massive void created by Moss' departure.


"I truly believe I am still here because of divine intervention," Troy said. "When I look back at my life, how could I not think that?"


'Troy's on fire!'


Shirley Williamson's double-wide trailer sits near the front of a one-acre piece of property alongside Hwy. 278. Shirley's mother, Celestine, owns the land and lives out back in a small house whose roof lies crumpled nearby with other household debris.


In 1985, Shirley, living in Jersey City, N.J., gathered her three children, including Roy and Troy, and moved home into a cinder block structure that sat where her trailer now sits. The boys' father, Leroy Stevenson, stayed behind in Jersey City and had little contact with his children until shortly before dying of Lou Gehrig's disease last summer.


"If I had stayed in Jersey City, my kids would have been doomed quicker than the quickest," said Shirley, 44, who had 11 children total with four men but was never married. "I wouldn't let them out of the house in the city. Down here, they could run free and not get into as much mischief."


Or so she thought until one day 12 years ago when a nephew ran through the front door screaming, "Troy's on fire!" Troy, who was 10, his cousin J.J. and Roy were bored that morning. So they grabbed a can of kerosene, a rag and some matches. The idea was to play a harmless game of "Army," Troy said.


"My cousin went to push my brother, and the fire flew onto my left side right there," said Williamson, nodding to the spot where it all happened. "I panicked and started running, but the air made the fire bigger. I tried the stop, drop and roll thing. But it didn't work."


Troy was rounding his mother's house for the second time when an uncle, Buster Boyz, slammed into him like Ray Lewis near the goal line. The fire was extinguished, but Troy suffered third-degree burns to 17 percent of his body. Part of his left hip and arm were burned to the bone.


He was hospitalized for about two months. He was on a feeding tube and had to have several surgeries, including skin grafts from his thighs.


"Then I had to get home-schooled because I couldn't really walk," Williamson said. "I hated to walk. It hurt so bad."


After six months of rehab, Troy was in the yard running and playing once again.


A couple of years later, Shirley looked out the front window and saw another uncle carrying Troy. She thought Troy had been shot, but he had been severely burned again.


"I was stomping out a fire, and it caught my shoe," Troy said. "It burned my ankle. They took skin from my stomach to fix that one. I don't play with fire anymore."


Troy's 'divine intervention'


Williamson stands just outside Silver Bluff High School, gazing out at a football field that's dubbed the "Dawg Pound." It's where his football career began, where college scouts flocked and 10,000 fans used to ring the field six deep to cheer for him and the Bulldogs during their 30-game winning streak.


Yes, football was Williamson's ticket to a richer life. But his ability to catch a ball and run a 4.34 40-yard dash aren't the only reasons for his good fortune.


Luck -- or divine intervention, as Williamson says -- not only kept him from burning to death, but it also might have kept him out of jail, he said.


"I did some things I shouldn't have," Williamson said.


Like the time he broke into that bookstore. Or the time that woman chased him through the woods because he was throwing rocks at cars on the highway. Or all those times he would beat up other kids, roaming the streets at night, practically asking for trouble.


"I could be with my cousin Curtis [Green] right now," said Williamson, shaking his head. "Curtis did a bunch of stupid stuff, and they locked him up down here somewhere."


Williamson pauses long enough to thank -- once again -- his godfather, a kindhearted Aiken County churchgoer named Doug Bates.


It was Bates, after all, who offered Troy, no strings attached, the same fork in the road that Roy ignored shortly before his death. Troy accepted the helping hand, and the two became as close as a father and son.


"Where would I be today without Doug?" Williamson asks. "It wouldn't be good. He's my divine intervention."


Losing Roy


Williamson receives hugs and handshakes around every corner of Silver Bluff's 833-student building. The warmest embrace comes when he greets Bates.


Bates, 36, was in his mid-20s when his pastor, Hezekiah Pressley of New Beginning Ministry, asked parishioners to help Shirley with Roy, who already was well down the wrong path.


"I didn't know her, and she didn't know me," Bates said. "I knock on her door and I say, 'My name is Doug Bates and I'm here to speak to Roy.' She says, 'Oh, no. What has he done to you?'"


Shirley welcomed Bates' help. Bates went to work on Roy but, in hindsight, admits he couldn't reach him, because "all I did was say, 'Go to church, go to church, go to church.' "


One night, Roy didn't come home. The following morning, Shirley returned from the store and saw the coroner's car in the driveway. She knew immediately that Roy was dead.


"The two other boys who were with him didn't get hurt," Shirley said. "But Roy broke his neck on the steering wheel. And his brain was just smushed."


Troy was told hours later as he got off the school bus.


"It changed my whole life around," Troy said. "We were close, and then he was gone."


Bates faded from the Williamsons' life.


"I didn't think I had any reason to stay around," Bates said. "The boy I was trying to help died."


But Pressley once again asked his parishioners to help Shirley.


"I just made up my mind that I wasn't going to lose another one," Pressley said. "There was something in Troy that I knew I had to get out. Football just happened to come out in the process."


Bates re-entered the picture. But he left his Bible behind at the start.


"I needed a different approach than I took with Roy," Bates said. "I told Troy, 'I just need some of your free time.' "


The two played basketball together, went to the mall together, just hung out together.


"The best hook of all," Bates said with a laugh, "was I got cable."


Eventually, Williamson and his younger brother Holly started spending nights at the house Bates shared with his mother. The two boys moved in, with Shirley's blessing, before Troy was in high school.


"I think God planned it this way," Shirley said. "Troy had male role models in his life. But before Doug came along, there were no positive male role models around."


Wanting to give back


Williamson swings by Radcliffe Elementary School and makes his way to the kindergarten room. A face lights up on a quiet little boy wearing a shirt that says, "My Brother Is Going To Play in the NFL."


Harold Williamson -- everybody calls him "Papa" -- is the last of Shirley's children.


Troy reaches into his pocket, grabs two or three $20 bills and hands it to the teacher to cover Papa's recent school expenses. Troy says to keep the change for the next time Papa "needs anything."


Williamson is ready to be the provider. Although he is still unsigned, Williamson is guaranteed of making millions of dollars in just his signing bonus alone.


He wants to use part of that money to establish scholarships for his younger brothers and sisters. He wants to put Shirley in a new house. Shirley has rheumatoid arthritis and has lived on disability checks since having both knees replaced a few years ago.


"My grandmother won't move," Williamson says, "but she needs a new roof."


Williamson also wants to use his fame and fortune to help charities.


"I want to help people who are burned," Williamson said. "And I want to do something for single parents. And helping people who lost loved ones in 9/11 is important to me, too."


Williamson is standing in the corner of a classroom at Silver Bluff, listing even more people he wants to help. Mary Thomas, his former Service Learning teacher, looks on with a smile.


"You all might like him because he's a football player," Thomas said. "I think he's special because of the person he is. About the 10th or 11th grade, he started to stand out as someone who wanted to make a difference."


Thomas' Service Learning class teaches students to give back to the community.


"We have a home in town for abused and neglected children, and Troy would go over with chips and soda and just hang out with the kids," Thomas said. "Or he'd leave football practice and go spend time over at the nursing home."


About 500 of Williamson's friends and family gathered at a hall in nearby Augusta, Ga., on NFL draft day. A local photographer captured Williamson's tears at the moment he was selected.


"I still have that picture right here," said Celestine, passing it through a screenless window of her house. "The boy went through such a hard time. That's why every time I look at him now, I start crying."


Williamson talked about draft day and that photo, and how he got to share it with loved ones. Bates is standing next to him in the photo.


"You think about all that has happened, all the hard work and all the people who are close to you," Williamson said. "I think about what Doug did for me, and how he didn't have to do it, and how that changed me as a person."


Williamson then thought about one person in particular who wasn't there.


"You always think about Roy," Williamson said. "What would it be like if he was still here. At least I know that he helped steer me the right way."

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MV's shortened version.


Dude grew up in a double wide trailer home. Momma had 11 kids from 4 different men though she was never married.


Brother Roy was killed when he was attempting to steal a car. Troy doesn't know why he wasn't with him at the time. Troy tried to torch himself not once, but twice (by accident).


This is one dude that isn't going to care if rookies aren't suppose to play good or that he's trying to fill someone else's shoes.

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He's got speed yea but watching him in college, he's def gotta a lot of work to do on his route running. Speed doesn't always translate to success in the NFL. But the pieces are in place for him. It'll be interesting to see how he is used this year.

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i don't think you need to worry about his route running, from what i have seen he needs to work on the rocks he has for hands.







Yea brother, I forgot bout that. Amen to that. :D I hope he does well though. He was a stud in college.

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i'm not as optimistic as you guys  about him.  from what i heard recently, he's buried on the depth chart at number 5.







I'm not too optimistic either, he has a while to go before being a difference maker, but he has loads of talent. He should be used somewhat. He has more speed than people give him credit for. And that is a lot.

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