Devin White was never a Saints fan growing up. His older brother, who passed when Devin was 13, actually walked around the house in a Buccaneers Ronde Barber jersey, White recalls. But White is still Louisiana, through and through. The rookie inside linebacker, who was selected at fifth overall in this past year's draft by the Buccaneers, played his collegiate ball at LSU – just over a four-hour drive from where he grew up. Now, he stands under the lights of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, a few more hours down the road, this time wearing an NFL uniform.
"It's so exciting for him to be from Louisiana and for him to come back and a lot of family come down, it's exciting," his mother, Coesha Standokes, says.
She is standing on the sidelines pregame. The place is already loud and there's still over an hour before the game kicks off. The bright white lights provide a stark contrast to the dome itself, which is black. Speaking of family, she's very much not alone. There are family members on the field with her and even more in the stands, standing out against the white of the lights and the black of the dome with Buccaneer red number 45 jerseys. In other words, you can't miss them.
"Just about everybody who was here today was in Tampa for the home opener," said Coesha, smiling. "We travel well."
Devin is from Cotton Valley in northern Louisiana. It's a small town. To go from an area like that to the sporting world's biggest stage is something not lost on Coesha, either. Her eyes get wide and light up as she tells me about the night of the NFL Draft, saying their new reality really hit home then – their sacrifices up until that point gaining validation. It's abundantly clear moments, like the one she was experiencing inside the Superdome on Sunday, are just as big for her as they are for Devin.
"It's rewarding," she says as she reflects on their journey. "For him to be at this level, where we're from, a lot of kids are now seeing him and trying to go the way he went with education first then sports. And before that, it's God and then family. It all comes full circle and I love it."
Devin's family is very close, though some are spread out all over Louisiana. Upon returning to his home state on Saturday with the team, Devin was actually able to pop into a family party in Metairie. Family time is precious, and even if it was for just a little while, they made it count with Devin getting to play with his six-month-old baby cousin for much of the time.
"Everybody was so happy to see him," says Coesha.
That tight-knit family unit has helped shape Devin into the young man that made it all the way from small-town Louisiana to the NFL. Touted for his leadership ability and maturity, he's fit right in to his role and responsibilities with the Buccaneers. Had it not been for a knee injury that has kept him out for the past couple weeks, White's role would have been even more pronounced, calling the defense on the field from the inside linebacker position.
"I had to keep him busy," Coesha said, explaining what made her put Devin in sports in the first place. "Traveling with sports, it started with basketball first – AAU ball, we traveled every summer. It was just what he does. If I can't make it, which is not very often, a family member will always be there. We try to make sure somebody is at his games."
You did a really great job with him, I say to Coesha as I nod in the direction of Devin, who is warming up on the field. She smiles and I ask what the main thing she tried to instill in him growing up was.
"Just believe in God and anything that's for him, if he works hard for it – he can get it," she answers. "There's nothing he can't do if he works it. Nothing is ever going to be given to you and that's pretty much it."
That simple sentiment is something that was passed down to her from her own parents. It's a multigenerational message that has now resulted in one of the hardest working rookies you'll meet in the NFL. And for Coesha, it's a testament of her love and support coming full circle in the place it all started.