The fear came for Willie Walker that November. He was not expecting it. Evening had dropped early and hard, as it does in Western Pennsylvania in the fall, but these were streets he had known forever.
Aliquippa's streets are, as one of Walker's coaches put it, "a spiderweb" capable of ensnaring the most innocent, and though Walker never lost sight of his prize—college somewhere, anywhere—he was hardly innocent. No, for a time he had leaped into the web, daring it to grab hold.
The year before, Willie Walker had been a star lineman for Aliquippa's 2003 state championship team, a 6'1", 295-pound, 4.8-in-the-40 "monster," says Darrelle Revis, then Walker's teammate and now a Jets cornerback.
He was alone, 17, with a 13-year-old sister to care for and no money for food or rent. Coaches and boosters mobilized, had a refrigerator stocked with groceries delivered to Walker's apartment in the Valley Terrace housing project, got him odd jobs, handouts.
As the winter months unrolled, Walker found himself growing colder. He had no time to feel pity. He lived the predatory days of black-on-black crime, supplied the hollow-eyed with endless rock, saw one friend rob another at gunpoint.
His coaches and most teammates didn't know what he was doing. His sister, Kerrie, didn't know. Walker kept playing, going to practice when he could, consuming the free food laid out afterward: green tea, hoagies, kielbasa, barbecue.