ALEXANDRIA — The foundation of Jacobian Guillory's new home was already poured the day his mother died.
Today, the concrete slab supports the three-bedroom house where LSU's next defensive tackle lives with his aunt, Angela McMillan, in a sleepy pocket of Alexandria.
In 2007, there was only the tiny two-bedroom square in the backyard. That's where McMillan decided to settle with her young son, Clifford, after nearly 20 years of traveling while working for several airlines, and she planned to eventually build a larger house out front.
McMillan's family and friends laughed at her plan. It couldn't be done, they said.
Not her. Not on her income. Not in Alexandria.
Sure enough, McMillan mustered enough money. Construction began, and one day in late March 2007, she drove up to Shreveport for her sister's baby shower.
Sherrika Vincent was then two weeks away from her due date. She, too, had driven up from Alexandria with her 6-year-old son, Jacobian, and his stepfather. They'd already come up with a name for her unborn daughter: Kieahnie.
Kieahnie only lived three days.
When McMillan returned home the night of the baby shower, she received the call: Jacobian's stepfather had fallen asleep at the wheel. He and Jacobian were buckled up in the front seats of his Jeep. Vincent was stretched out in the back. The Jeep rolled several times, landing on its wheels off the highway, its engine still running.
Jacobian suffered scratches and a scar. His stepfather broke his shoulder. Vincent was flung through the back window.
The families spent the next two weeks in Shreveport, McMillan said, visiting and praying for Vincent in the hospital, long after Kieahnie was the first to pass.
"She never came out of it," said McMillan, 61.
Jacobian, young and unknowing, jumped and played in the hospital's hallways and rooms. The hospital was only for temporary visits, he remembers thinking. Everyone gets better. In a few weeks, they'd all be back home and everything would be back to normal.
McMillan knew her nephew needed a home.
"I just couldn't see it no other way for him not to be here," she said, sitting on a leather couch inside the house she finished just over 12 years ago.
The living room is filled with special keepsakes. On a shelf rests an unopened yet somehow empty Coke can, which McMillan kept after a grocery run just because she felt it meant something.
Within an hour, she'll leave for her Tuesday night Bible study.
Surely, she said, God knew she would build a larger home at the time of her sister's death.
Surely there was a path for Sherrika's surviving son.
"He was calling on her sooner," McMillan said. "He wanted to make sure everything was in place."
A game-changing tackle
"Why y'all suddenly so interested in shot put?" Otis Chatham said Tuesday afternoon, as a small crowd of students gathered around the coach at the edge of Alexandria Senior High's track.
Overcast and muggy, mosquitoes swirled around the bent legs of Jacobian Guillory, the brawny 19-year-old who was poised to launch a 12-pound iron ball toward a row of plastic sticks.
The 6-foot-2, 337-pound senior once threw a shot put 55 feet, 5 inches — a personal best which made Guillory a two-time Class 5A state champion in the event.
He's a two-time state champion powerlifter, too, someone who can consistently bench more than 400 pounds and squat over 700.
In other words, Guillory is the prototypical athlete LSU coach Ed Orgeron has been searching for since he returned to Baton Rouge in 2015: a powerful player who can wreak havoc on the defensive line, busting up backfields and ball carriers.
Guillory commanded the trenches as a senior at Alexandria, recording 76 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. That's 76 tackles at nose tackle, a position where Guillory was regularly double- and triple-teamed.
Ruston and West Monroe both resorted to using "double-fold" blocking schemes, in which the center would guide Guillory wherever he wanted to go, and the running back would run the opposite way.
Chatham, Alexandria's defensive line coach, said Guillory's signature was wrapping up running backs from behind like a bear, dropping all his weight on his opponent until they both slammed to the ground.
Once, against West Ouachita, Guillory dropped someone for a loss and sprinted to the sideline in excitement. "Look," Chatham told him, pointing back toward the field. The ball carrier was still dreadfully picking himself off the ground.
"You get 330 (pounds) on your back enough times," said Chatham, 27, a former defensive lineman at Louisiana College, "you're not gonna want to carry the football too many more times."
A relatively quiet recruitment ended with Guillory choosing LSU over Alabama during December's early signing period. An infrequent visitor on the recruiting camp circuit, hubbub and fanfare didn't kick up around Guillory until his performance in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 4.
Make no mistake: Guillory is considered a game-changing tackle, the type of recruit Orgeron has previously lost out on with players like Ishmael Sopsher, a four-star defensive tackle from Amite High who chose Alabama in 2019.
Guillory is a "monster," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports' national recruiting reporter, someone who could consistently play as a true freshman — especially now that LSU has switched to an attacking four-man front under new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
"Not only is (Guillory) the kind of guy Ed Orgeron's looking for," Simmons said, "this is the kind of defensive lineman everybody's looking for. He's the type of guy that's the difference between playing for championships and winning championships."
Before Guillory arrived at Alexandria Senior High as a freshman, the Trojans had only won three total district games in the previous three seasons. Last season, Alexandria went 10-2 and was a missed field goal away from the Class 5A quarterfinals — a substantial finish for a school that's never won a state championship in football.
That 13-12 loss to Mandeville High was Nov. 22, 2019.
Guillory has a knack for remembering dates.
Like Feb. 24, 2018: the day LSU offered him a scholarship.
Or July 14, 2007: the day McMillan gained custody and essentially became his new mother.
Even on Tuesday, Feb. 18, it just so happened to be his mother's birthday.
She would have been 45.
On game days he'll write "1975" on his taped wrists, in memory of his mother's birth year.
"I thrive off of that," Guillory said. "I live off of that. That's why I work so hard. I understand that some days aren't the best days. But I live off that."
'The new D-line U'
Aunt Angela was always known for taking the kids on cruises.
The usual travelers were herself, Clifford, her daughter, Rekisha, and Jacobian. They'd port in New Orleans or Miami or Galveston, Texas, and set sail for the Caribbean's most beautiful stops.
Belize. Cozumel. The Cayman Islands.
Jacobian's first cruise was a three-day trip to the Bahamas at the age of 1.
His aunt was living in Houston at the time, still working as a customer service agent at Continental Airlines. The job had taken her as far as Hong Kong, and it was enough to instill a deeply held belief that everyone should travel at some point in his or her life.
"I would tell anybody that traveling is an education," McMillan said. "Different cultures. Different places."
She was always told that no one could afford to travel, much like those close to her would later say that she couldn't afford to build a bigger house in her front yard.
So it was she who regularly packed up the kids for their Caribbean adventures, a routine she kept even after Jacobian came under her care.
Every trip, Jacobian made new friends. They'd go on excursions off the cruise ship together, and by the time he returned, McMillan said it seemed like every family on board knew who Jacobian Guillory was.
His extroverted personality has swelled in quiet Alexandria.
He plays with Alexandria head coach Thomas Bachman's young son. Shakes hands and holds conversations with 50-year-old alumni who stop by for football practices. He sang bass and beat-boxed in "The First Noel" for the "Highs & Lows," Alexandria's high school choir. This week, he was voted Mr. ASH (Alexandria Senior High) by the student body.
If football somehow doesn't work out, Guillory said he'll try to be a TV personality like former LSU defensive end Marcus Spears or Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal.
"He's a people person," McMillan said. "He got that from traveling."
Life sometimes seems so interconnected. Like the timing of a house's construction. How McMillan beat breast cancer twice when Guillory was in elementary school. Sometimes it seems like there's more to it all than just an empty Coke can.
McMillan has more to marvel.
On a spring break cruise when Guillory was in the eighth grade, he introduced McMillan to his newfound friend: future LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence.
Lawrence was then a senior at Neville High in Monroe, and he and Guillory spent four days in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Progreso before football even came up.
"We've been close ever since," Guillory said.
They've texted each other before games, before pivotal moments like Lawrence's national championship game against Clemson or Guillory's decision during December's early signing period.
Guillory said he chose LSU partially because of Lawrence's influence.
Yes, Alabama is known for producing NFL defensive linemen. Seven Crimson Tide defensive tackles have been drafted since 2016, five of them within the first two rounds.
Only one LSU defensive tackle has been drafted in that span: Davon Godchaux, who was selected No. 178 overall in the fifth round of the 2017 draft by the Miami Dolphins.
Distant are the days of first-rounders like Michael Brockers (2012) and Glenn Dorsey (2008). As 247Sports' Simmons said: "there haven't been quite as many names as maybe we once were used to."
Part of that may be due to the installation of a three-man front under Dave Aranda, LSU's defensive coordinator from 2016-19.
Part of it may be because of a 12-year championship drought in Baton Rouge since the Tigers last won the BCS national title in 2007.
But Guillory saw Lawrence win the Fiesta Bowl's Defensive MVP in the 2018 season. He watched LSU nose tackle Tyler Shelvin become the defense's point of attack under Aranda's scheme in 2019.
Whatever the reasons may be for the program's lack of NFL production on the defensive line, Guillory still signed with LSU before Aranda became Baylor's next head coach, before the Tigers played Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
"I just want to start something here in Louisiana," Guillory said. "Because LSU is always overlooked. They're overlooked every year, and I just want people to turn their heads and realize this is the new ‘D-line U.’ ”
Another date to store
Pictured sets of eyes hung on the walls of Dwayne Severio's office.
The Alexandria defensive coordinator admits he stole the idea from visiting Aranda in Baton Rouge. Inside LSU's linebackers meeting room, Aranda had posted about 30 pictures of eyes on the walls, each cropped into rectangles to focus on the irises and eyebrows.
The artwork provoked a mood, an unsaid message: this is how your eyes should look.
The pictures in Severio's office have fallen over the years. Six remain. Among them are Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary's stare, the glare of a tiger, others Severio pulled randomly from internet searches.
Severio first saw Guillory in the summer of 2016, just before his freshman year.
Guillory's reputation had already taken shape. Chatham, who started at Alexandria that year, was told by other coaches "if you can't coach him on, you might need to find something else to do."
Summer workouts began with what the coaches call a "curl mobility" routine. Players step over and under a series of hurdles, one after another, trying not to touch the hurdles as they pass. The routine shows the coaches just what kind of natural athletes they're working with.
And there was this 6-foot, 300-pound freshman, flexing his way through the hurdles like he was made of rubber.
"I'm a Louisiana guy," said Severio, 54, who has coached in the state for over 25 years. "I've never, ever coached a kid like Jacobian."
Before Guillory ever played in a high school game, Severio drove him down to Baton Rouge to meet former LSU coach Les Miles and Orgeron, who was the defensive line coach at the time.
Four years later, Guillory drove back to Baton Rouge with Severio so he could shake Orgeron's hand and tell him face-to-face he was committing to LSU.
They sat on the patio of LSU's football operation's building together, a week before the Tigers' undefeated showdown in Tuscaloosa.
Guillory sat silently in Bryant-Denny Stadium, watching LSU beat Alabama for the first time since 2011, knowing he would join the program a year later.
Soon, he'll leave Alexandria again. This time, he may be leaving his aunt's three-bedroom house for good.
It'll be another date in Guillory's memory: June 5, 2020.
Another date for him to store deep inside.
"He has that heart just like his mom," McMillan said. "Big heart. He really do. That's probably why he's going far."