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THE INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY SCENE

Bills' Wiley Has Shown a Stick-With-It Attitude

May 28, 2000|DIANE PUCIN

Marcellus Wiley took something from everybody.

From Dominique Walker, a big kid on the block in Compton, Wiley learned about football. Walker played football on the hot, hard concrete streets of Compton and so Wiley played too.

From the television sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," where a white father and his daughter brought two African American boys into a Park Avenue mansion, Wiley got the idea that someday he would have a home with two stories, a home where he could have a staircase too. And Marcellus also made up his mind that someday he would live in New York City.

From his parents, Valerie Howard and Charles Wiley, Marcellus got in his head the idea that his education was important, that his education could take him places, that school was not only a place to eat lunch and play games. Valerie and Charles, postal workers who didn't have college educations, told their son he could be much more if he stayed in school.

Wiley is 25 now. He is a graduate of Columbia University in New York. Wiley is a professional football player for the Buffalo Bills, tabbed to replace future NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith at right end for the Bills this season. In 1999, Wiley had five sacks, one interception and 25 tackles playing mostly as a backup. And, yes, his home in Buffalo is two stories tall and has a lovely staircase.

But there is so much more to Wiley.

Wiley is the father of 2-year-old Morocca. Wiley and Morocca's mother are not married and Wiley knows that some people will condemn him for that, that people will think Wiley is simply another irresponsible pro athlete.

But Wiley is an active father. He loves his daughter and talks to her every day, sees her often, supports her with all his heart and not merely his checkbook. Morocca comes to Los Angeles and stays with her dad in the summer, goes to Buffalo and visits her dad in the winter.

"I've seen too many kids messed up because their father wasn't around," Wiley says. "That will not happen with Morocca. She will always have a daddy who loves her."

Before you condemn Wiley for not being married to Morocca's mother, perhaps you should know more about his character.

Because Wiley chose to play college football at Columbia and because Ivy League schools don't offer athletic scholarships, Wiley had a problem. His academic scholarship and financial aid was good for only four years. With his commitment to football, Wiley knew it would take five years to graduate. And he would graduate.

So after his junior year at Columbia, Wiley came home to work for a year. He stayed in shape by riding a $99 bike his grandmother gave him everywhere. To work. On dates. "I didn't own a car," Wiley says. "A date for me was biking to a girl's house and watching TV." If Wiley wasn't riding his bike, he was running.

Wiley would run three miles to the Dorsey High track and then run two miles on the track. Then he would run two miles to a gym and work out. Then he would run three miles home. "When I went back to Columbia," Wiley says, "I was in the best shape of my life." Wiley also took courses at West Los Angeles that would transfer to Columbia.

And he volunteered at "My Friend's Place," a resource center for homeless and troubled youth. "These were kids who were runaways or who got beaten at home and had nowhere to go. It was an awesome experience. I realized the blessings I'd received in my life. Sometimes all I could give these kids was a person who would listen to them. Boy, those kids helped me too. They helped me focus my goals even more. They helped me be committed to knowing that I want to accomplish more in life than football."

And there is more to Wiley than even this.

Wiley transferred from Westchester High to St. Monica High after his sophomore year. Wiley transferred because he saw too many good athletes, good kids, who missed out on college scholarships because they couldn't score high enough on entrance tests. "I knew my only way into college was with an athletic scholarship," Wiley says. "So I made the transfer. There was a coach at St. Monica's who was a good football man and who saw his players got the grades and test scores too."

The transfer meant Wiley had to be up and out of the house before 6 a.m. He was. He earned a 3.5 grade-point average as a senior at St. Monica and was a member of the National Honor Society. The football coach who had attracted Wiley to St. Monica left after a year and so did many players, all moving to Inglewood High. But Wiley stayed. His St. Monica team won only one game and few college scouts came around.

UCLA, Arizona State, Cal, all those schools wanted Wiley as a walk-on. But Wiley wanted Columbia. Columbia was in New York City.

In his first math class at Columbia, Wiley says, "I thought I was in trouble. The professor filled up the chalkboard with words. No numbers. All words. And this was math."

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