CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- At times, Rashaad Haynes wanted to be one of the guys. But he was more than just a young teenager in Chicago's inner city.
At times, Rashaad Haynes wanted to be one of the guys. But he was more than just a young teenager in Chicago's inner city. He was a role model and father figure for a younger brother, the toddler in his shadow, the little guy everyone called Juice. "With the age gap, it was a bit of a struggle at times,'' Haynes said. "I wanted to be a teenager. I was lugging around a 5-year-old. Everybody was asking me if that's my baby.'' No, Haynes would say. Juice Williams was his little brother. Almost a decade and a half later, Williams is the face of the Illinois football team, the star sophomore quarterback whose performance and personality carry Illini hopes. Behind Williams' big smile and the strong right arm, the heroes were his mother, Anita, and Haynes, a 28-year-old construction worker who helped raise Williams by serving as a positive influence early, the chaperone during the recruiting process and a comforting voice on the phone through a tough freshman year. Haynes has more help these days, because the family is intact again. When Illinois meets Missouri in the season opener Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Williams plays college football with his father in the stands for the first time. Stanley Williams missed the football season last fall while serving one year in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., on a parole violation from an earlier conviction. In 1998, a federal grand jury indicted Williams and another man for possession of 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute after an arrest in Utah. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Stanley Williams was released in June and returned to the family's apartment home. He saw only a couple of his son's games last year on TV. "He's excited to show his dad what he can do,'' Stanley Williams said. "It will be a glorious thing.'' With the family together, Juice Williams looked to the future, even though he admitted there were "embarrassing'' moments with his father in prison. "He's heard about the stories with the tailgate parties,'' Juice said. "He's so excited. I want to put on a show for him on gameday and do my best. "Things are getting better back home. He wasn't around the entire time. He's around now. Our relationship is getting stronger as the days go by. Once things are right at home, everything else falls into place. Things happen. People make mistakes. You can't dwell on those mistakes. You have to forgive and forget.'' What won't be forgotten is Haynes' role in Juice's development. Haynes (who took his mother's maiden name) played high school football at Hyde Park and Chicago King. His younger brother followed him into athletics. "He was only 4 or 5, but what I was learning I would show him,'' Haynes said. "It seemed like when he could come to my games, I would have a solid game. He would see my A-plus performance.'' Haynes lives just around the corner from his parents' home. "He never cut me off,'' Juice said. "He let me go with him when it was right. I'll always love my brother.'' Before Williams' senior season at Chicago Vocational, Haynes drove Williams and Chris James, a close friend from Chicago Morgan Park, to unofficial campus visits and summer camps. Among other stops, they hit Illinois, Notre Dame and Purdue. "He was the chauffeur and chaperone,'' Juice said. "We'd talk to coaches. Rashaad would hear things that we didn't even think about.'' Williams and James both committed to Illinois and played as freshmen last fall. "Juice's mom and brother have been a tremendous support system at home,'' Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "Rashaad has been like a dad for him in terms of a role model. Rashaad was the key. He was the champion, along with their mom.'' Haynes' work wasn't yet done. He fielded phone calls from Williams last fall, when as an 18-year-old freshman just three months from his high school graduation, Williams became a starting quarterback in the Big Ten Conference. Suddenly, Williams played a leading role in a program trying to rebuild. "When you're a freshman and you come in as heralded as he was, the expectations were at times far greater than his capabilities,'' Haynes said. "When you're struggling to maintain those expectations and you're limited as far as your capabilities, you're struggling to get over the hump. "He learned from it. It made him stronger. He started to grow from it.'' The pressure overwhelmed Williams early. At Camp Rantoul, weeks before the season started, Williams dissolved into tears. "He broke down at the dinner table,'' James said. "It was really hard for him.'' If Illinois wants to improve on a 2-10 record overall and a 1-7 mark in the Big Ten last season, Williams must make a big jump from last season, when the Illini ranked last in the Big Ten with 156.5 yards passing per game. Williams completed 39.5 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. In the offseason, Williams worked to find some touch in that powerful right arm. He spent about 90 minutes per day in the film room, learning to better read defenses and understand concepts. Williams also studied the playbook. It was part of what the coaches called learning the lifestyle of a Big Ten quarterback. If Williams was tested on the offense last season, "I would have got a D-minus,'' he said. As a sophomore, "it's a B-plus or an A. I'm better acquainted with the offense.'' The Williams family enjoyed last fall, wearing 'Got Juice?' T-shirts and tailgating. It's a tight group. Anita Williams works at the University of Chicago Hospital as a custodian. Bianka, is Juice's older sister and "favorite girl,'' Anita said. Andre Williams, Juice's younger brother, is a member of the Jesse White Tumblers. The family, perhaps 20 or more, will make the trip to St. Louis either Friday evening or early Saturday morning. Assuredly, Stanley and Anita Williams are filled with pride. Quietly, so is Rashaad Haynes. "In my heart, I know,'' Haynes said. "I pat myself on the back, but that's not for the public.'' That's OK with Haynes. Juice Williams knows, too. John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.