He couldn't read or write.
"And I kind of panicked. What do you do with that?" she said, recalling the meeting.
Willingham's job was to help athletes who weren't quite ready academically for the work required at UNC at Chapel Hill, one of the country's top public universities.
But she was shocked that one couldn't read. And then she found he was not an anomaly.
Soon, she'd meet a student-athlete who couldn't read multisyllabic words. She had to teach him to sound out Wis-con-sin, as kids do in elementary school.
And then another came with this request: "If I could teach him to read well enough so he could read about himself in the news, because that was something really important to him," Willingham said.
The rest of the misery...