TAMPA — Week after week, the losses piled up for Devin White.
First to go was his hustle. Then his reputation took a bit of a hit after a bad play last month against the Ravens. His apparent lack of effort in the loss was called out by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.
Privately, White apologized to teammates. Fellow linebacker Lavonte David, the longest-tenured player with the Bucs, reminded White what was at stake. David had enjoyed only one winning season and no playoff appearances in his first eight years in the NFL.
“He holds me to an even higher standard than myself because he’s been doing it for so long and winning feels good for him,” White said of David. “He knows what it’s like to lose and he’s always telling me, ‘I’m not going back down that road.’”
White’s road has been cluttered with unmarked curves.
He was 13 when his brother, J’Marco (Jae Jae) Greenard died in an accident. Greenard was a passenger in a church van that veered out of control when a tire blew out.
On Nov. 10, as White was riding on the team bus to catch the Bucs’ charter flight to Germany, he learned that his 45-year father, Carlos “Cube” Thomas, had died.
A former scholarship basketball player at Louisiana Tech, Thomas was being transported from the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center to the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center after complaints of severe back pain when he became unresponsive in the ambulance.
Thomas was being held on federal charges that included conspiracy to possess an illegal substance with intent to distribute, according to public records. Not much else is known about the case, which is sealed. Louisiana authorities are investigating his death.
White returned to Spring Hill, Louisiana, last week for his father’s funeral.
“It was the worst bye week I ever had,” White said. “You know, I had to put my dad in the ground. But at the end of the day, that was the person I talked ball with a lot. I don’t care if I was playing the worst ball, he thought I was the best in the world. So just not having that type of person to talk to going forward, I mean, it was hard. ...
“But I’ve got my own son to raise. I’ve got a little brother that’s still here that I’ve got to be a father figure for. At the end of the day, I’ve got to put my big boy pants on and keep rolling.”
Trials a part of life
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Bucs coach Todd Bowles was prescient when he addressed his team in a meeting before they left for Germany.
He stressed accountability and communication between players. But he also offered a stern warning that there will be losses off the field.
“You’re going to have problems outside of your job all day long as you get older,” said Bowles, pacing the stage of the team auditorium. “All day long, it’s never going anywhere. It’s called life. You will never get to the point where you are totally happy. Somebody is going to pass away. Somebody is going to get sick. Okay? Somebody is going to get hurt. That’s just life. ...
“How you deal with it, how you navigate yourself through it is how successful you will be at the end.”
How the 24-year-old White has navigated so much personal loss has been impressive.
Coaches and teammates would not have blamed White if he decided to skip the Munich game against the Seahawks and return to his family home. But playing football has allowed him to escape grief.
Instead, White dedicated the game to his father, and his performance was spectacular.
White had one of his best games as a pro, recording nine tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and three quarterback hits. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week to go with his NFC Defensive Player of the Month honor for September.
After White sacked Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith late in the first half, he folded his hands in prayer, made the sign of the cross on his chest and blew a kiss to the sky.
“It’s been hard. It’s been really hard,” White said of his father’s death. “More so off the field it’s been way harder for me. I’ve just been going through a lot. I still come to work and try to do what I do best and have fun here, but at the end of the day, it’s life. Everybody is going to go through a lot of bad things off the field, whether you want to or not.
“You’ve just got to be able to accept it and keep your faith high. I think that’s one thing that keeps me going. I don’t wear my emotions on my face. I deal with my problems the way I deal with them, but I keep God first.”
For all the circumstances still to be unraveled about Thomas’ incarceration and death, here’s what we do know about him.
He was married to Shameka Grant for nine years and was a father to her daughter, Kharma Rose Carnegie. She called him Carlos “JuJu,” the cool dad.
He supported his kids and attended their sporting events, which included football, basketball, swimming and cheerleading, and he tried to be at as many events as possible. He owned Platinum Hands Mobile Detailing Services, which catered to pro athletes, community leaders and other professionals. He enjoyed breeding French bulldogs and had one named King Mulah as a pet.
White said his family is still struggling to cope with Thomas’ death.
“They’ll get better because everything gets better with time,” White said. “You’ve just got to pick the glass up and put the broken pieces back together. But it will take a while.”
The 32-year-old David can relate to White. David’s mom died several months after he signed his first free-agent contract. His dad passed five months after he won Super Bowl 55.
“I feel like I’m there for a reason because a lot of things he’s going through, I’ve been through the same thing,” David said. “I allow him to kind of piggyback on my situation so I can lift him up.”
Bowles and the coaching staff never wavered in their belief in White as a player.
“We’ve never had a problem with Devin here in the building,” Bowles said. “We don’t look at it that way at all. Anybody on our team can have one or two bad plays … the fact that he got scrutinized, that’s just the way football goes.
“We expect everything from him. He’s one of our leaders; he’s one of our best players. He produces for us every week at a full clip. Everybody has full confidence in him and we expect him to be ready to go Sunday (in Cleveland) just like he was in Germany.”
What White said he will remember most about his father is how supportive and proud he was of his kids. He and Thomas shared a strong physical resemblance. But it didn’t stop there.
“I think the No. 1 thing is (him) saying, ‘I give my all for my kids,’” White said. “He was always saying he’d take his last breath for us and I’m just trying to be that type of person. ... I’ve done enjoyed 24 years of a great life so if mine was to end anytime soon, I’m thankful.”
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.