TAMPA — Devin White kneels at the grave in Cotton Valley, La., where his stepbrother is buried. The sun cascades through the surrounding pines that sway in the wind, the silence broken only by White’s words.
“What’s up, big bro?” he says. “Every time I come out here, I missed you more and more. The day you left the world, you became my angel.
“I know you helped me get through a lot, I know you helped everybody else get through a lot. I just want to say thank you. You always were the one that a lot of us could lean on. A lot of us look toward you for strength, still. I know you got me, and I got you. This journey is far from over. Just want to keep your name alive.”
White’s journey from a tiny trailer where he shared one of the three bedrooms with his stepbrother to a linebacker with the Super Bowl champion Bucs, is captured beautifully in an NFL 360 film entitled, Wild Horses that will air Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Emmy award-winning producer Trent Cooper captured the touching story of White’s rise from a country boy who just loved riding horses to one of the best athletes to ever come out of Louisiana.
It was the fulfillment of a dream hatched by White and his stepbrother, J’Marco Jewel Grenard, when they were just kids. Grenard, or J.J., as he was called, was six years older than White but a great athlete in his own right. He won a state title in track “and we didn’t even have a track in Cotton Valley,” White says in the film.
Everyone’s life changed on June 11, 2011. J.J. was riding in a van and returning from a church trip to Texas when the left rear tire blew out. The car flipped five times and nearly everyone was ejected, including J.J., who died instantly.
Cooper tells the story using only the words of White, his mother and a few other important people in White’s life, such as Shaun Houston, who was behind the wheel of the van that day and has become a mentor.
It was Houston who convinced White to attend an LSU football camp, where he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and was offered a football scholarship by then-coach Les Miles on the spot. White was 14.
Cooper spent three days with White in his hometown, where you meet George Shaw, 66, who raised horses on a 160-acre farm where White learned to ride.
“The culture of Cotton Valley is very unique,” White says. “Growing up, everybody tends to teach their child how to ride a bike. Well, up in Cotton Valley we always teach kids to ride a horse.”
Cooper’s use of horses is just great cinematography. The animals are beautiful, and you learn that White’s love of horses has a much deeper and private meaning.
“My thing at that age was being around horses,” White says. “When I was around them, I was always in a good state of mind. I did a lot less thinking. My focus was always on the horse. Either you’re riding, you’re getting together, cleaning the stall, you’re doing something productive so your mind can’t be all over the place, and that helped me a lot, because I couldn’t go into a dark place.”
The positivity White projects in the face of such loss at an early age is remarkable. Everything he does is to honor the memory of his stepbrother.
“After the tears and stuff, it was all positive about all the things I was going to do, that we said we would do together,” White says.
White went to LSU, just as J.J. predicted he would, and became an All-America linebacker.
It was maybe more than a coincidence that White became the fifth overall pick of the Bucs in 2019. On draft night in Nashville, he secretly brought a graduation picture of J.J. and set it up in the green room while waiting for his name to be called.
“I just knew I was missing a part of me,” White says. “I was very sad. I just wanted him there to witness all that hard work ... everything we went through just to get to that moment.”
The Bucs were J.J.’s favorite team, and cornerback Ronde Barber was his favorite player. Cooper captures the emotion of White on draft night when his name is called.
“I feel like it happened for a reason,” White says. “Will never know what that reason was, but I feel like God just kept that connection going.”
Houston sums up White’s story this way: “It’s almost like it’s a Hollywood script. It’s too good to be true.”
Another first for Brady
Check another box in the Brady bingo card.
Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium will be the first played in Los Angeles for Tom Brady since he entered the league in 2000.
Brady is from San Mateo, Calif., and used to own a house in L.A. It seems odd after 21 seasons this will be his first NFL game in the City of Angels. But the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland (before heading to Las Vegas), leaving Los Angeles without an NFL team for decades.
“It’s great. I have a lot of family from there,” Brady said. “My sister lives down there and my niece goes to school at UCLA, so I have a lot of family and friends coming to this game. It’s pretty cool.
“... It’s pretty amazing to have never had the opportunity in all of my years of sports to kind of be on the field there, but I’ve done a lot of practice out there and done a lot of workouts out there. And I obviously know a lot of people there, so it should be a great atmosphere.”
The RoJo situation
Let’s be clear, Ronald Jones is a talented running back. You don’t rush for nearly 1,000 yards in the NFL without being a good player.
But it appears he’s taken a few steps backward this season. In two games, he’s made a couple of big errors. He lost a fumble that got him benched against Dallas and failed to pick up a blitz against the Falcons that resulted in Brady being sacked by linebacker Deion Jones.
The Bucs need Jones to be a complete player for them, because the running back position has a high incidence of injury.
But if Brady can’t trust him in pass protection, it’s going to be hard to play Jones much on passing downs.
“I think he just missed one (blitz),” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “It’s been 100-something plays, and he didn’t do his job on really one. No concern on my end.”
Leftwich has to stand up for his player, but let’s be honest. That one missed block could get Brady hit and potentially lost for the season.
Brady isn’t just any other quarterback. He’s 44. He’s the reason there is another Lombardi in the trophy case and a fan in every seat.
One play? The Titanic hit one iceberg. You can’t have a guy out there to sink the season.
One other thing: What is Jones doing in the game on second and 20?
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