Willie Pile, second year member of the Dallas Cowboys, can only marvel at how far the game of football has taken him in such a short time. He only first began playing as a high school freshman back in 1994 at West Potomac High School in Alexandria. That realization — of having played football for a relatively short time — struck him late in the 2005 NFL season when the Cowboys visited the Washington, D.C. area to take on the Redskins in an NFC East showdown game.
"It was crazy," recalled Pile, a Cowboys defensive back and special teams player who quarterbacked West Potomac to the Div. 5 Northern Region championship as a Wolverine senior in 1997. "[Just a few years ago] I was a couple miles away just picking up a helmet, learning how to put it on the right way."
The Redskins soundly defeated Dallas, 35-7, in that meeting at Fed Ex Field nearly a year ago, and afterwards Pile heard about it from his old Alexandria-area friends.
"Friends [of mine] in attendance at the game were calling me afterwards," said Pile, of the friendly ribbing he took.
Pile, a former collegiate star at Virginia Tech, has fond memories of his high school football career and of being part of the '97 Wolverines who defeated cross-town rival Mount Vernon in the region championship contest. He still remains close with several of his old teammates. In fact, a number of them attended Pile's wedding a few weeks ago in Richmond to new wife Keia.
"We only had 30-something players on the team," recalled Pile, of the 1997 Wolverines varsity squad which reached the state AAA semifinals before seeing their season end with a loss to William Fleming of Roanoke. "Sometimes in practice we didn't have enough [players] to have a full scrimmage. But the seniors were committed to winning. The Class of '98 was special."
Pile, the Wolverines' star QB, was remarkable for a West Potomac team that went 11-2 that season. He earned Div. 5 Region Offensive Player of the Year honors. He also was selected First Team All-Region as a defensive back after picking off a school record eight interceptions. The team's other star players that season included senior running back Delvin Courtney, a First Team All-Region selection who rushed for over 1,700 yards and 16 TD's, and defensive backs Tyree Harris, a senior, and Devon Adams, a junior who also played running back.
Pile, as the team's signal caller, rushed for 652 yards while passing for 560 yards. He had a hand — either running or throwing — in 13 touchdowns. Then Wolverine offensive coordinator John Howerton, currently head coach at Langley, was quoted in a December 1997 article in the Gazette as saying that "[Pile is] one of the first kids we've had who could read the option. He could call plays on the line and run the no-huddle offense. His mental abilities were outstanding."
That year's region championship game versus Mount Vernon, took place at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. The Wolverines overwhelmed the Majors, then coached by Marty Riddle, 31-7. Courtney ran for 137 yards and two scores in the win. Pile, who rushed for 62 yards and tossed a 16-yard scoring pass to Mike Bumbrey in the victory, was quoted after the game as saying, "Today, we didn't get fancy, but just did the basic things. The [offensive] line was pumped and their line was not quick enough for us."
Three years earlier during training camp of his freshmen season, Pile, who had never played organized youth football, recalled volunteering to play QB when assistant coach Jamie Meier asked if anyone was interested in playing the position.
"One of my teammates said, "No one is playing quarterback," recalled Pile. "I said, "Coach Meier, I'll be a quarterback." I had good teammates and coach Meier around me."
Over his years at West Potomac, Pile picked up football quickly and blossomed into an outstanding two-way player. He lettered three seasons and earned both First Team All-Met and All-State honors as a defensive back.
ONE OF PILE'S GREATEST high school honors was playing in the Chesapeake Football Classic game for graduated high school seniors in the summer of 1998. The game, played at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium, matched the Virginia All Stars versus the Maryland All Stars. Pile, playing for the Virginia squad coached by Frank Creneti, had two second half interceptions that June night to earn Virginia Team MVP honors.
"Playing in this game was all I could think about this week," said Pile at the time. "Winning the MVP is a dream come true."
Of Pile, Creneti said prior to the game, "Willie's a natural leader and you want him to use that leadership on the field."
That following autumn, Pile began his collegiate career at Virginia Tech under coach Frank Beamer. He was redshirted that season. The following season, the fall of 1999, Pile saw limited playing time for the Hokies and totaled 12 tackles for the season.
Pile's breakthrough collegiate season came in 2000 when he started all 12 of Tech's games. He had 56 tackles and six interceptions that season. He earned Big East Player of the Week honors following a game versus Syracuse in which he accumulated 10 tackles and made three interceptions. He capped the season with an interception in that season's Gator Bowl game versus Clemson.
As a redshirt junior in 2001, Pile continued his stellar play. He finished second on the team in tackles with 94, and also had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. In a game versus rival UVA, Pile halted two Cavalier drives with interceptions near the goal line. And in another game versus the University of Miami, Pile was credited with 11 solo tackles.
Going into the 2002 season — his final season at Tech — Pile was rated as one of the nation's top free safeties.
During his collegiate career, Pile, at one point, made 36 straight starts and was part of a class which won 40 games. He loved playing for coach Beamer.
"He lets his coaches coach," said Pile. "His big deal is special teams."
Following a solid senior season, Pile was drafted in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring of 2003. In his second season with the Dick Vermeil-coached Chiefs in 2004, he played 16 games, mostly on special teams, and was in on 36 tackles. Last year, Pile signed with the Cowboys, under coach Bill Parcells. He once again saw action in all 16 games and was in on 22 tackles. In last year's final game in Dallas versus the St. Louis Rams, Pile had three solo tackles.
This past March, Pile re-signed with Dallas and is ready to attend training camp.
Pile, who grew up a 49ers fan, said coach Parcells is "every bit the demanding coach." He recalled a game last year when, as a member of the kickoff team, he was offsides even after the Dallas coaches had warned the players not to leave early on the kick. Pile, at the time, did not think he had left before the kick and told that to Parcells on the sideline. But in the film room the following week, tapes of the play revealed Pile had, in fact, left early.
"In the film room, coach said, `You left early.' I didn't want to look in his eyes," recalled Pile.
Of Parcells, Pile said, "Bill knows everything about offense, defense, and special teams. He's a complete football coach, like Beamer."
Pile said his team goal is to be playing for the Cowboys in next winter's Super Bowl game, scheduled to take place in Miami. He said his main personal goals are to be a bigger contributor to the Cowboys as a defensive back or on special teams.
"I'm still looking for my first [NFL] interception," said Pile, with a chuckle. "I tell people I'm looking for eight signature plays [this season] — a big hit, a forced fumble, or a key tackle. I want to be confident and be consistent."
Willie Pile is 58 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.