William Leonard Roberts II was born in Mississippi, but moved to Carol City when he was young. His mother was a nurse and his father, whom she divorced, had earned several educational degrees. Until Ross was 14, he lived in a tidy corner house in a hard-scrabble neighborhood around the corner from Carol City High, where he later played football under legendary coach Walter Frazier.
“He wasn’t an angel. We used to get on him about missing practices, especially when it was hot,” Frazier recalls. “Football was important to him, and he hung with a special group of guys — fun-loving guys who all went out together.’’
One of them was Ross’ lifelong best friend, Alfonzo Morgan, who, like Ross, played football and had hopes of going to the NFL. They both won scholarships to Albany State University in Georgia. Ross dropped out after one semester in which he majored in criminal justice, according to a university spokesman.
Two years later, Morgan also left, homesick and tired of the academic rigors.
“He was cool, and we were together practically every day,” Morgan said. He said they pretty much stayed out of trouble, other than an occasional shoplifting or stiffing a cab driver. The friends were both hefty and called each other “Fat Boy” from the time they were kids.
Frazier said Ross’ nickname in high school was “Big Bill,” and he was far from the thug or gangster that he writes about.
They were typical teenage boys, Frazier said. They were part of community programs, and his mother participated in the team’s booster program, he said. “He was no different from the other kids, an average student, well liked.’’
His neighborhood, now part of Miami Gardens, is cleaned up. The house at 17th Avenue and 181st Street is pink, with three bedrooms and one bath. If Ross initially grew up in a rough neighborhood, he didn’t stay. In 1992, when Ross was 16, county records show that his mother, Tommie Roberts, purchased a 2,300 square foot home in Rolling Oaks Estates, an upscale cul-de-sac community in Miami Gardens. Ross was always tinkering with cars, and drove a blue and white Chevy Impala to school, Frazier recalled.
“What I most remember is he used to remove the steering wheel and carry it with him so that the car wouldn’t be stolen.’’
He always wore flashy threads and was popular with the ladies.
Morgan said Ross always talked about music and never was without a notepad, upon which he would scribble lyrics incessantly.
“He wrote on that pad so much that it was actually aggravating,’’ Morgan said. “He always had headphones on, listening to rap.’’
But after dropping out of college, Ross’ mother pressured him to go to work so that he would stay away from the grittier realities of street life, Morgan said..
In 1995, at the age of 19, he graduated from the training academy and was hired as an officer at the South Florida Reception Center, a prison facility. When he resigned two years later, he was earning $25,000 a year.
Morgan said Ross had bigger dreams. He and Morgan had long envied the prestige and cash that the drug dealers were earning on the streets of Carol City, so they began to drift on the other side of the law. Ross changed his appearance, covering himself in tattoos, growing a scruffy beard and flaunting a new streetwise, dangerous persona.