Lovell Pinkney sometimes wonders what would have happened if he had never left that street corner in southeast Washington, D.C. He wonders if he would still be there selling crack, if he would be in prison, if he would have been shot to death before his 20th birthday, as six of his friends were. He is certain of this, though: If it weren't for his high school coach, Willie Stewart, he wouldn't be at Texas, and he wouldn't be one of the top freshman receivers in the country. Says Pinkney, "Sometimes it seems like only yesterday I was on the streets selling drugs."
Pinkney was in the 10th grade at Anacostia High when Stewart noticed that he was missing classes and football practice. "He saw all these guys making all this money," says Stewart, who has coached at Anacostia for 12 years. "The suppliers like to recruit high-profile kids—the star athletes like Lovell—to sell their drugs." Stewart had seen it before: Eight of his former players were killed in drug-related incidents. After each death Stewart took his team to the wake. He says, "It's my way of saying to my players, This could have been you."
Stewart would often find Pinkney plying his trade on the corner of 15th Street and Independence. "I would say to him, 'O.K., Coach, I'll stop.' And then the next day I would be out on that corner doing the same thing," Pinkney says. "He would tell me how I was blowing my future. I'm here today because of someone who cared." After Pinkney survived a drive-by shooting, Stewart's message finally sank in. Pinkney quit selling crack later that year.
He went on to become Washington player of the year as a senior. After six games at Texas, Pinkney, who is 6'5" and 210 pounds, is averaging 25.8 yards per catch.
Though he is glad to be far away from the crime of his Washington neighborhood, Pinkney is already planning his next trip home. "I want to do for athletes what my coach did for me," he says. "I want to speak to students and tell them about my background. We have to stop the killing. Maybe it just takes a few people who care."
Football and Texas have given Pinkney a fresh start.