As the biggest dude ever to walk the halls of H.D. Woodson High in Northeast Washington, Raymond Smith has become a legend in his own time. Internationally known as "The World," he is, at 6 feet 6, 428 pounds, probably the largest high school football player on earth.
With the right skills and some luck, he could become the next William (The Refrigerator) Perry, whose exploits as a 300-pound-plus Chicago Bear makes "The World" sit up and take note.
"I can see myself blocking like that," Smith says enthusiastically. "But running the ball . . . . " He shakes his head shyly. "I wish," he says.
Smith dreams of playing pro football and, at age 18, the only thing between him and a lucrative career is school. From here on out, the choices he faces get tougher. He must lose about 150 pounds to make a college team and, at the same time, earn the credits to graduate next spring.
With network television following him to classes and photos and fan mail coming in from girls around the country, concentrating on school work won't be easy for Smith.
When he came to Woodson two years ago he was an extraordinarily shy person. He wouldn't even sit with other students in the cafeteria. Not even his teammates. So his teammates joined the "The World," and began to coax him out of his shell.
The new found attention seemed just what Smith needed but it was a life that required some adjustments.
He has become part of a class of young athletes who are groomed for long-shot careers in sports without comparable emphasis on their education. While few school systems are bold enough to require that athletes maintain an average grade point for player eligibility, the problem of graduating illiterate sportsmen is widespread. It is to the credit of Woodson High School officials that athletes are required to attend both regular classes and tutorial sessions.
But the emphasis on education and employment does have an impact on sports. For example, five of the starters on Woodson's football team quit after three games to take part-time jobs at a newly opened department store. The team is now 3-4, the worst record in the last 10 years, despite "The World." Now the pressure mounts on Smith.
"I'm trying not to get a big head over all of the attention," Smith said. "I used to be very uncomfortable with my size. Football has made that easier for me to deal with."
As part of an offensive line that averages 250 pounds per player, Smith has developed a new identity in which his size is essential to their collective strength.
Because of him, the team was taken on a new aggressiveness.
During a game with Dunbar High School last month, which Woodson won 39-0, a Dunbar player was injured, taken off the field in an ambulance and hospitalized in traction.
"They say I hit him and stepped on him," said Smith. "All I remember is blocking somebody, and the next thing I know people were saying I broke the guy's neck."
A review of the game film showed that Smith was nowhere near the injured player.
But the legend lived on and it has become fashionable for opposition players to claim that they have been hit by "The World."
"It doesn't bother me," Smith said with a proud smile. "If all the talk bothered me, I wouldn't play the game."
As Smith gains more confidence in himself, his attitude toward school improves. He speaks up more in class, and is not so timid about asking others for help.
"I have to face the fact that I must lose a lot of weight in a short time or I can't play college ball," Smith says soberly. "The only thing left is to make it through school -- find a major in college, something like business. I could see myself in business."
Instead of dating or going to night spots after school, Smith says he spends most of his time at his home on Stanton Road in Southeast Washington doing homework on his Atari computer and watching over his younger brothers and sisters.
He doesn't drink or smoke, and says the only time he gambles is while "playing cards with my mother."
" 'The World' is doing fine," says Woodson High coach Bob Headen, who recruited the youth after watching him dunk a basketball. "He attends a course on life skills during his lunch hour. He has a C average and has already lost 20 pounds. At this rate, he's got a good shot at realizing his dreams."
Which just goes to show what the "The World" can do with brains as well as brawn.