This fall, students at Pine Bluff High School will have their own Hall of Fame celebration for Willie Roaf.
NFL representatives will place a bronze plaque honoring him inside his alma mater and have a ceremony in his honor there. The ceremony is scheduled for some time in October, Roaf said.
“From a local scenario, this will let kids know if you are willing to work, stay focused and keep your nose clean, you can reach the top of your area of work,” Roaf’s father Clifton said. “It’s important for our kids to have as a role model someone like Will.”
During the ceremony, the students will also learn about another former Zebra who’s in the Hall of Fame.
“I think they should know who Don Hutson is and how special Pine Bluff is,” Willie Roaf said.
Until now, Hutson was the only player from Pine Bluff in the Hall. The 1931 PBHS graduate was an All-American at Alabama who went on to play 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers and hold at least eight NFL records as a receiver. He was inducted into the Hall as a charter member in 1963, and NFL.com ranked him the ninth-greatest player of all-time.
“That means a lot, only two of us from Pine Bluff in the Hall,” Roaf said. “I don’t know how many players they got (in the Hall) from the state of Arkansas.”
Roaf is one of two Arkansans to be inducted this year, joining Rivercrest graduate Cortez Kennedy, who played 11 years as a defensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks.
“A real good athlete, especially for a big guy,” Roaf said of Kennedy. “He’s a lot of fun. He likes to joke a lot. Since the announcement, we talk a lot more.”
The rarity of someone from Pine Bluff entering the Hall makes this occasion special for Roaf, born on April 18, 1970, as the third of Clifton and Andree Roaf’s four children. Clifton is a dentist and Andree, who died in 2009, was the first black Arkansas Supreme Court justice.
Clifton said he expected Willie to go into a line of work where he would reach out to kids.
“Whether it was working as a counselor or a coach, he likes working with kids,” Clifton said, noting Willie was a sociology major in college. “He never had an interest in dentistry.”
Willie said his parents had no definition of what they wanted him to become, only for him to be successful. He said he might have joined the Army if he didn’t get an athletic scholarship.
“They wanted me to be more involved in academics,” he said. “My mom kept me off the basketball team in high school for a time because I let my grades slip. I didn’t like that too much.”
Roaf was known for his ability in basketball as much as in football. He helped the Zebras reach the Class AAAA football semifinals that season, setting a foundation for future championship teams, but wasn’t heavily recruited. He said Central Arkansas and Southeast Missouri State wanted him for basketball.
“I had a love for basketball, but I didn’t play basketball organized until junior high,” Roaf said. “They saw a lot of potential in me.”
So did Louisiana Tech’s football program. Roaf accepted a scholarship to the Ruston, La., college because it was moving into the Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) ranks.
“That’s why a lot of guys were excited to be there,” Roaf said. “You looked forward to a program where you were going to play Division I football.”
Roaf entered Louisiana Tech as a 6-foot-5, 225- to 235-pound player whom coaches weren’t sure at first what side of the ball he would play on. He redshirted his first year, then started the next four years for the Bulldogs, working his way to 300 pounds.
He considered leaving for the NFL draft after his redshirt junior year, but a game during his senior year helped him draw more looks from league scouts.
Coming off a 38-11 win over Arkansas in Little Rock, Alabama hosted Louisiana Tech for its fourth game of the season. Both teams combined for only 284 total offensive yards — the Bulldogs had 117 — in a 13-0 Crimson Tide victory that was part of a national championship run.
“After we played them in that game and I played good against those guys, all those scouts were following me around,” Roaf said. “I knew I was going to go pretty high.”
Roaf also was named an All-American in 1992.
He did. The New Orleans Saints kept him in the Pelican State with the eighth pick in the first round of the 1993 draft.
After nine seasons with New Orleans and four with the Kansas City Chiefs, Roaf built a Hall of Fame career. Today, he lives in Anaheim, Calif., owning rental properties there and in Kansas City, Mo. He has four children: daughters Jordan (age 17), Alexis (15) and Carrington (10) and son Dillon (13).
Billy Long, Roaf’s strength coach in Kansas City, holds Roaf the person in high esteem.
“He is a better person than he is a football player,” Long said. “He’s a hell of a football player. But he’s a better man and a better daddy than he is a football player.”