PLAQUEMINE — They threatened Davon Godchaux’s life.
“We will kill you,” they told him.
They already shot up his home. At least 10 bullets shattered the front window, tore through the living-room couch and gashed the fridge.
Davon’s twin brother, Devin — the alleged target in this retaliatory drive-by shooting — heard the gunshots rip through the home as he showered. Davon’s mother was in the hospital, battling an ulcer. Davon was at summer basketball practice.
“Thank God he was,” said Toby Willis, one of Davon’s assistant football coaches at Plaquemine High School.
Davon arrived later that day to find caution tape encircling his tattered home, police officers on the front lawn and half of the neighborhood in the street. The threats from his brothers’ enemies came later.
“Coach, they told me they’d kill me,” Davon told Warren Bates, a father figure to him.
Bates said Davon was told the reason they wanted to kill him was because he was “the only one that’s good for something.”
“They knew he was going to go play big-time football,” Bates said. “He broke down in tears when he told me that.”
This summer marked the third anniversary of the day the Godchaux home was riddled with bullets. It’s the day Davon Godchaux became the man he is today.
“It was a rough day,” Davon said, discussing the incident for the first time publicly. “Come home from basketball practice and had to see that. I grew up broke, but I don’t speak on it.
“It drives me a lot — each and every day. When I get tired, I dig in, dig deep. You got to dig deep and find that extra drive, something that drives you. That’s the extra kick I get.”
‘No silver spoon for me’
Davon Godchaux’s life story has plenty of chapters. Many are sad.
You know the latest chapter. It’s a happy one.
Most think of Davon — pronounced Duh-von — only as the 6-foot-4, 295-pound LSU defensive tackle. The guy who mauls offensive lineman, tears into backfields and stuffs running lanes. A preseason all-conference player who went from unsung rookie to explosive starter three weeks into last season.
Flip back a few pages, and things get less rosy.
“No silver spoon for me,” Davon said. “Growing up, it was rough.”
Davon’s twin brother and their oldest brother have been in and out of prison. His twin, Devin, is currently behind bars for charges that include aggravated assault with a firearm and battery of a corrections officer and a police officer.
Davon’s father was in prison when he was born, his mother, Albertha, said. The two split years ago, ending what Albertha described as a physically abusive relationship.
Albertha has a bevy of health issues and has been on disability for years. Her legs are marked with rashes. She uses a cane to get around and has undergone multiple stomach surgeries.
During his junior year of high school, Davon spent time as a nomad after the family was evicted from its shot-up home, Albertha said. He spent several weeks hopping around different homes in the city. Albertha said she still has trouble paying bills and recently had to call on Davon to help pay a $292 power note.
“God gave Davon a gift,” said Bates, Davon’s former peewee football coach who cared for the high schooler during those nomadic days. “He takes football and uses that as an outlet. When he’s angry, he channels his anger into working out. He calls it getting out.
“He says, ‘Coach, I’ve got to get out.’ That’s a ticket for him to get out of the ’hood. He uses football as that ticket to make his life better.”
On a random Wednesday afternoon, Albertha Godchaux sits in a chair propped next to her washer and dryer. She’s in her kitchen — the back room in a cozy and clean shotgun-style home just north of downtown Plaquemine — far away from the one where that shooting took place.
A friend is styling her hair. About 20 minutes ago, she received a call on her cell phone from Plaquemine football coach Paul Distefano.
“Mousey!” he yelled into the phone when she answered. “A reporter wants to talk with you.”
Mousey is a nickname bestowed on her by her mother. The people of Plaquemine have adopted it. She’s not often called by any other name — though she admits Davon refers to her as “Bert.”
Mousey is chatty, specifically when it comes to her baby boy. Davon is the youngest of her six children. He’s one minute younger than his twin, Devin.
Davon and Devin were the second set of twins for Mousey. Twin girls Janecia and Jamecia are 27 years old.
Devin and Davon are not identical. In fact, Devin stands about 5-foot-7 — nearly a foot shorter than his brother.
You can blame Davon for that.
“They were sitting on top of each other in the womb,” Mousey said. “Davon was on top, eating all of the food I was eating.”
That might explain Davon’s nickname within the family: Big Poppa.
Big Poppa and Mousey
Their relationship, Mousey said, is the reason Davon stayed close to home for college instead of signing with Florida or Ole Miss — two schools that came awfully close to pulling him away.
“He really did it for me,” Mousey said.
The two are close. They’re friends as much as they are family. Davon often sends his mother a playful text as if she were a fellow teammate or classmate: “What’s up, Bert?”
“Boy,” she’ll respond back, “you better not play with me!”
He takes care of Mousey. She has battled so many health problems, and she’s still dealing with some of them. She often experiences stomach pain from complications with a Hunner’s ulcer that wrapped around her intestines.
She’s undergone “seven to eight” surgeries. Doctors removed the ulcer, along with the parts of her intestines it had enveloped. They removed her gall bladder and her appendix as well. To this day, she still feels pain.
“I cry sometimes,” she said. “I know I have to cut back. They say to lose weight.”
She has promised Davon that she’ll do the latter. He often calls or messages her, urging her to eat chicken or fish — lean proteins.
“I don’t want to have to sit here and watch you on TV,” Mousey said she’s told her son. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to get healthy.”
Davon’s father isn’t in the picture much.
“Last time he beat me, my oldest daughter pulled a knife on him,” Albertha said. “That was it.”
He lives in Port Allen, and he owes Albertha thousands of dollars in child support, she said.
Davon has more than just his mother to support. He has a baby on the way, a boy due Nov. 11. That’s also Davon’s birthday. And four days after LSU squares off at Alabama.
“Everybody wants to eat. I want to see my family eat at the end of the day,” Davon said. “I want to take care of my momma. Now I really have to step up and be a man. Got a little boy on the way.”
‘Your boy got hurt’
Davon blames himself for the play that ended his final year of high school football. He tore his ACL and LCL in his right knee in the first quarter of Plaquemine’s opening game of his senior season in 2013.
“He says he was loafing,” said Distefano, entering his third season as Plaquemine’s head coach.
Video of the play — Davon has seen it — shows the then-285-pound defensive lineman jogging after a ball carrier, his back to the line of scrimmage. From behind his left shoulder, an East Ascension offensive lineman lowers his shoulders into Davon’s lower back — an illegal clip.
On his way to the ground, Davon tries to catch himself, extending his right leg fully and shifting more than 200 pounds onto his outstretched right knee.
It buckles. He falls. The stadium gasps.
“We didn’t get the flag,” Distefano said, still frustrated by it all.
Bates walked up to the stadium seconds later. A friend broke the news: “Your boy got hurt.”
“At first, Davon really wasn’t too concerned,” Bates said. “After the surgery, he realized this year was done.”
That’s when it hit.
“Many times I walked by his room,” Albertha said, “and he’d be in there crying.”
Davon committed to LSU 10 days after suffering that season-ending knee injury. The Tigers honored their offer.
Distefano remembers LSU coach Les Miles’ message to Davon days after surgery: “I don’t care if there’s a bicycle in that knee; we want you.”
Davon overcame that knee injury quicker than most. One year later, he was preparing to play significantly as a freshman in college football’s toughest conference.
How can that be explained?
Distefano offers one theory: “He worked his (butt) off. I’d go into the weight room, and he’d be in there working out his upper body with his leg in a cast.”
‘Big ole boy’
Willis began working at Plaquemine in 2010. Seated in one of his first classrooms was a 6-2, 230-pound kid. It was an eighth-grade class.
“He was a big ole boy,” Willis said.
Davon’s recruitment didn’t really take off until more than three years later — the spring of his junior year. Coaches were late to the party, Distefano said. It took four or five visits to Alabama for Nick Saban to finally offer a scholarship.
LSU followed a few days later, Distefano said. Current LSU defensive line coach and then-Southern Cal assistant Ed Orgeron offered him a scholarship around then, too.
This all came the summer and spring before Davon’s senior season. Willis remembers the mayhem during that time. Coach after coach visited Plaquemine.
“It was crazy,” said Willis, now tight ends coach at McNeese State, LSU’s season-opening opponent Saturday. “Five SEC schools in a matter of two-and-a-half hours. He would ask me, ‘Who’s here now?’ It was nuts.”
Davon’s recruitment somewhat divided his family and friends. One group thought he should get far away from the problems in Plaquemine. Distefano admits he, at least partially, believed that, too. He said Davon held some of those beliefs as well.
Bates and Albertha were in the other group.
“I said, ‘Poppa, you can’t leave,’ ” Albertha remembered.
Albertha didn’t know what school her son would choose until he signed his name. She woke up on the morning of National Signing Day in February 2014 to dozens of texts from assistant coaches from around the country. She was a sweaty mess up until Davon officially signed with the Tigers. She calls it a weight lifted off her.
The whole family was there for the signing, including Davon’s father and Davon’s older brother, Raynard. Law enforcement agreed to release Raynard from jail so he could attend the ceremony. He wore a tracking device on his ankle.
A brother behind bars
On the jail cell wall behind Devin Godchaux’s cot are newspaper clippings of his twin brother, the big LSU football star.
Devin has been in jail for about 15 months for a laundry list of offenses. He was involved in an argument with a corrections officer, and authorities moved him from a jail in Plaquemine to one farther north.
Albertha is upset about her son’s relocation. What once was a five-minute ride to visit him is now more than two hours, she said. She frequents the district attorney’s office, fighting for her son to be released or returned to the Plaquemine prison.
She’s realistic, though.
“I know when you do wrong you have to suffer the consequences,” Albertha said.
Family and friends pool money and send it to Devin so he can purchase items like toothpaste and deodorant at the prison commissary. Davon contributes money and something else.
“He sends him ‘I’m thinking of you’ cards,” Albertha said.
Davon visited his brother over the summer before Devin was moved to the new prison. It’s the first time he had seen him in a year, Albertha said.
Devin and Davon talk on the phone “a lot,” Davon said.
“He tells me things. He motivates me from the jailhouse,” Davon said.
They motivate each other, really. Recently, Devin left the prison’s common area just as highlights of Davon popped up on television. Fellow prisoners raced to catch Devin. He watched the clips with the other inmates, and they had a message for him.
“They were saying, ‘You’ve got to get yourself together, get right so you can see him play,’ ” Albertha said.
The night Devin and 23-year-old Raynard were arrested is still vivid to Davon. He was just a junior in high school when, at 3 a.m., police officers banged on the family’s door.
“Nights like that drive me,” he said. “Knock on my door. Police with flashlights coming in to get my brothers. That drives me to want to be better, want to be great each and every day. I want my son to have great things. I want him to have a better life than I did.”
The last hope
The tire was gigantic. It was full of muddy water from a rain storm the day before.
Davon didn’t know that as he lowered his body and lifted one side of the tire off the Plaquemine football field, flipping it. Mud splashed his face as the tire bounded off the grass. He didn’t flinch. He dropped down and flipped the tire again.
Willis watched in awe. Less than 24 hours after bullets ripped through Davon Godchaux’s home, the teenager arrived first for 6 a.m. workouts.
Willis happened to be filming the workout.
“I made the hype video and that was one of the clips — that rep, that morning after,” Willis said. “Nobody probably realized the significance of it. I knew. The coaches knew.
“That really amazed me that day — something like that happens, and he shows up and puts that in the back of his mind. That was a moment that defined where his mind is and what type of person he is.”
Albertha can’t count the number of times she cried from a hospital bed the day her oldest sons’ enemies shot up her home. What if Davon had been there? While at home, Davon spent most of his time in the kitchen or on the couch — two areas riddled with bullet holes.
Albertha doesn’t much like to speak about that day.
“I’ve done the best I can. I can’t watch my children 24/7,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Davon becomes almost breathless when speaking about the shooting. It still hurts. He draws on it for motivation — in life, in football, in everything.
“When I saw both of my brothers get incarcerated, I was like, ‘I can’t be the third one. Can’t be me,’ ” he said. “I’m the last hope.”
Davon has mostly stayed out of trouble. He was arrested and given a misdemeanor citation last summer — before his freshman season at LSU — for throwing a firecracker into a West Campus Apartment unit. Bates called it a “childish prank,” and Davon learned his lesson.
Davon’s only other run-in with the law: speeding.
“He’s got a heavy foot,” Albertha said with a laugh.
Davon visits Plaquemine High often. He attends football games when he can and comes to several basketball games. He’s a god on campus, surrounded by autograph-seeking high schoolers at every turn.
Thing is, most of them don’t know the full story.
“He’s a solution to most of the problems right here in Plaquemine,” Bates said. “I told Davon when he was in the ninth grade to start writing a story, write in your diary. He says he’s started writing. I’ve never seen it.
“He’s got a story.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.