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November 5, 2009
A Helping Hand
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Willie Weeks looked over the fourth grade boys at the start of another practice. There they were: the Oak Cliff Jets. Ten years later a handful of these kids would find themselves as Division I football players. But then, they were just another Dallas inner-city pee-wee football team, and Weeks was their coach.
When he went down the list to check attendance, he read off the usual names. Cyrus Gray? Check. Aldrick Robinson? Check. Isaac Madison? Check. Lubbock Smith? Wait. Where was Lubbock?
"He quit the team," one of the players said.
He quit? Why? None of the players had an answer. At the time, Weeks didn't know a lot about Lubbock Smith. He knew he was a good player, and if Weeks had one rule, it was that you don't just let talent walk out the door without an explanation.
So after the practice was over, he went in search of the 10-year-old Lubbock. He went to two addresses. When Weeks finally found Lubbock, he looked into the boy's eyes and knew something was wrong. He would later find out that Lubbock had recently been separated from his father who had been sent away to prison.
The two had been very close. They did everything together, and without his dad around, football just didn't seem all that important.
Weeks gave his best sales pitch to Lubbock to get him to rejoin the team. It was the usual speech. He told him to not be a quitter.He told him that the team needed him.
Eventually, he won Lubbock over.
"With a 10-year old kid it doesn't take much," Weeks says with a laugh.
During that year, Weeks began to notice this Lubbock kid hanging around him, asking him for advice, bugging him to stay after games to watch the older kids. Weeks, who has two daughters, didn't mind it, in fact, he sort of enjoyed it.
Lubbock, in a way, was becoming like the son he never had.
Weeks knew the power of having a positive male influence in a boy's life. All he had to do was look to his own childhood. His father had passed away when Weeks was just 13, and his pee-wee football coach Gus Jones stepped in and mentored him. Where would Weeks be right now without Gus Jones?
Where would Lubbock be if somebody didn't step in and serve the same role? So Weeks talked with Lubbock's mother Yolonda. She was a good mother and provided Lubbock with everything he needed. Still, Weeks felt Lubbock needed a male role model.
They agreed that Weeks would become Lubbock's godfather. In a way, Weeks felt like he was repaying his old mentor Gus Jones.
"I became Gus Jones, and Lubbock was like Willie Weeks," Weeks said. "I was like, 'you got to be kidding me, because this is the same thing that happened to me in my life.'"
"It was like a match made in heaven."
So after games, Weeks would call his wife and tell her to put another plate on the table for Lubbock. When Lubbock needed some tough love, well, it was Weeks who would deliver the hammer. Weeks watched some of the players - players better than Lubbock - from that Oak Cliff Jets team grow up and fall into trouble.
He made sure Lubbock didn't follow the same path. He told his godson to only hang out with football players or students who showed ambition and had dreams that went beyond the Dallas streets. He hounded Lubbock about preparing for the ACT.
Sure, typical things any father would do for their son, but Lubbock said without Weeks, he easily could've gone down the wrong road.
"He has been there for me in every kind of way that any kid could want," Lubbock said. "He has just been a big part of my life."
In high school, Weeks would watch from the stands as Lubbock developed into his own as a football player. It was even Weeks who helped lead Lubbock to Kansas. During his senior year, Lubbock was dead set on going to Texas A&M. When they went to the Aggies camp, Weeks didn't get a good impression from former A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
Two weeks later, Franchoine was fired. When they went to visit Kansas, Weeks had a different feeling.
"Mangino and all the coaches were great," Weeks said. "I told him, 'I really feel like this is the place for you,' and it just kind of went from there."
Although when Lubbock got to Kansas, right away he felt homesick. Weeks would always tell his godson the same thing over the phone.
"Listen son, the trees are the same. The streets are the same. The cars are the same. Nothing is different. In other words, you are not missing anything, but where you are, you are bettering your life."
Again earlier this season, it was Weeks who worked with Lubbock through another problem. Lubbock felt like he had finally earned the right to start, but there he was stuck on the second team.
It would've been easy for Weeks to tell Lubbock what he wanted to hear. That he was right.That he was better than the other players. Except Weeks went the opposite route.
He told Lubbock something that the freshman would never forget: "The world doesn't owe you anything."
Weeks grilled him about what he could do better. Eventually, Lubbock finally admitted that maybe, you know, he might need to study the playbook better.
"Okay knucklehead, there you have it," Weeks told him, "Coach Bowen is calling these plays out and you don't know what is going on. That's why you aren't playing."
When Lubbock finally got the opportunity to start against Colorado, he wanted to keep it a secret to those close to him.
Finally, two hours before the game began, he couldn't help it and sent his family a text message giving them the news.
Finally, when Weeks saw Lubbock's face flicker across the television, like any proud father, he got out his cell phone and sent out a mass text to all of his friends.
"It's about damn time."
Even though the team has lost the last three games, Lubbock has been one of the positive new faces to help turn around the defense. Weeks said the sky is the limit for his godson. He's still just a freshman.
But no matter what else he can accomplish on the football field, Weeks made Lubbock promise him that he will do something even bigger off it.
"You got to stay humble, and you got to find another Lubbock Smith," Weeks said. "There is another one out there. You have to go and take care of him and help him be something in life."
Lubbock said he took the promise to heart.
"I was very fortunate to find somebody to mentor me, so I have to pass it along to someone else."