Tampa, Fla. – Winston DeLattiboudere remembered looking around during Gophers training camp this fall and thinking, “Wow.”
Senior. Senior. Senior. Senior.
He went down the line of his defensive teammates and realized just how many were starters or impact players embarking on their last season. DeLattiboudere himself as a starting defensive end, defensive tackle Sam Renner, defensive end Carter Coughlin, linebacker Kamal Martin, linebacker Thomas Barber, cornerback Chris Williamson, defensive end Tai’yon Devers.
On Wednesday, they all play their final game.
The Outback Bowl is a rewarding sendoff for the seniors, providing a chance for the No. 18 Gophers to take down No. 12 Auburn. But the unknown of what comes after is a somewhat daunting prospect.
Players such as Coughlin and Martin are sure NFL draft picks. Others will likely pursue invites to rookie camps or other such pro tryouts. But if those don’t pan out, the real world with real jobs awaits.
“The next chapter of my life is kind of …” said DeLattiboudere, waving his hands trying to encompass the ambiguity. “I don’t know what’s really happening.”
DeLattiboudere has spent five years with the Gophers, and he will have played in every game his entire career, starting 35 of those 51 games. This season, he made 27 tackles, including two for a loss, and a shared sack while also forcing a fumble and returning another.
He hopes an NFL minicamp is in his future, but the Baltimore native also has plenty of off-field options. He has graduated with a degree in sociology of law, criminology and deviance and is working toward a master’s of education degree in youth development leadership. He is one of the most avid volunteers on the team, frequently visiting elementary schools in the Twin Cities and even organizing a school supply drive for a school in Jamaica that his father and many other family members attended.
DeLattiboudere said as soon as he works through what his life will look like in the near future, he wants to continue helping that school. He also wants to visit his grandparents and other family in Jamaica in the summer for the first time in two years.
But at least his next few weeks are set. More than a dozen family and friends are coming to his last college outing. Then he and Devers will head to Texas for the College Gridiron Showcase Jan. 3-8, a camp-like event for seniors that provides a chance for professional scouting as well as potential invites to other all-star games.
But there’s at least one aspect of the yet-to-come that DeLattiboudere isn’t unsure about: the Gophers defense. And that’s because the seniors have prepared them well.
During bowl prep, strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol would call out for the leaders to take the team through stretches. Seniors remained silent while younger players looked at them expectantly.
“ ‘I’m not here in a month. Figure it out,’ ” DeLattiboudere told them, and then he watched as players such as Braelen Oliver and Mariano Sori-Marin stepped up to lead the exercises. “… They’re making small mistakes, but that’s why we’re here to be like, ‘OK, well, when you see somebody reacting like this, do this.’ You’re able to guide them through it.”
DeLattiboudere, one of the most sunny and eloquent Gophers graduates, will move on. But he is satisfied with the impression he made.
“We’re leaving the defense in good hands,” he said. “… You look at the guys that are kind of coming up behind you, and you’re feeling a kind of a grace in your heart, that you get to pass on to people who are deserving and willing.”