Randal Williams and his mother, Margaret McGee, clearly remember the day they showed up to begin Williams' new life at Deerfield Academy.
"Just the classic preppy environment, and the classic preppy look - blue blazer with the khaki pants," recalled Williams, now a Raiders tight end. "I got there, and I guess I wasn't necessarily prepared, dress-wise. I knew there was a dress code, but I wasn't hip to the khaki dress code."
If Williams was feeling somewhat out of place, McGee was invaded by doubts about the whole idea of sending her son - barely 14 at the time - to a boarding school in Deerfield, Mass.
The economic divide between McGee's modest household and the blueblood families of the prep academy was prodigious.
"Everyone was in this fine clothing," McGee recalled from her home in Irving, Texas, where she is "temporarily retired."
"Randal went to school with (New Jersey) Governor (Christine Todd) Whitman's child! ... I could look at a pair of their shoes and know that my whole outfit could cost the same as their shoes."
No one said the transition would be seamless. But McGee and Williams stuck to the plan, which took a black adolescent from the Bronx and plopped him abruptly into the leafy grounds, Colonial-style (or in some cases, truly Colonial) buildings and overwhelmingly white faces of Deerfield.
It worked, thanks to the ethic instilled by McGee, Williams' hard work and a helping hand from an organization called A Better Chance.
To be clear, this isn't a story about a kid from the projects, a boy who was abused or had to extricate himself from gang life. McGee worked as a registered nurse, first in acute care and later in long-term care. Her salary was pretty good and was supplemented by Social Security benefits. Williams and his sister, four years older, were always academic achievers. On the other hand, McGee was a single mother of two; Williams' father had died when the boy was 5.
The family lived in a 21-story apartment building in a neighborhood of Puerto Rican, Dominican and black families. McGee describes it as "fairly nice." Two blocks away, however, were the housing projects, with all the dangers and temptations they normally offer.
"It wasn't the worst, but you'd go around the corner and basically, the worst was staring you right in the face," Williams said. "I was fortunate I had a mom that put her children before herself, and she'd do what she had to do to ensure we had everything that we needed - not necessarily everything that we wanted."
McGee ran a tight ship. She'd be out the door in the morning in time to make her 7 a.m. nursing shift, which ended at 3 p.m. It was up to kids to get themselves ready for school. McGee would pick them up from day care when her shift ended, and they had to finish all homework before playing or watching TV. When they did play, she usually insisted it was in the playground or parking lot next to the apartment building, where she could watch them from a window.
"I had no problem with my daughter," McGee said. "With Randal, I was apprehensive."
She soon found an ally in a surprising medium: video games. Williams loved them, and his friends flocked to McGee's house to play. So she always knew where he was. Williams was always in the high-achiever classes in elementary school and junior high.