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Atlanta Falcons GM Terry Fontenot wants to help rebuild weather-ravaged Louisiana hometown



When Tanya Fontenot drove to her childhood home last September, her parents warned her about the nails. They were everywhere — on roads, in grass, hidden in crevices throughout Lake Charles, Louisiana.

What had once been attached to homes and roofs, keeping the dwellings of Lake Charles together, were scattered everywhere, torn asunder by one of the worst hurricanes to hit the mainland United States in the last century.

Mike and Josetta Prudhome, Tanya’s parents, had lived in a tan house with the painted-white front porch for decades. Mike loved the land, so he could have outdoor activities. Josetta had a she-shed built on the property as her private place to go and sew. Tanya hadn’t lived there for years — her family was then in New Orleans and now Atlanta, where her husband, Terry, is the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.

Weeks after Hurricane Laura devastated southwest Louisiana, her grandfather died. She and their four children traveled back home to bury her grandfather and see her family. It was then she understood the damage Laura had done. And the nails that were everywhere.

Throughout Terry’s final season in New Orleans and in his first year with Atlanta, as he has tried to reconstruct the Falcons, Lake Charles has never been far from Terry’s thoughts. His parents, who have been displaced since Laura hit last August, are still there. So is his wife’s family, and so many people who helped make Terry who he is today.

Tanya and Terry grew up in Lake Charles. They met before one of his junior varsity football games his sophomore year at LaGrange High School. On their first date, Terry drove to Tanya’s home — the same way Tanya drove up now. They’ve had a quarter-century of shared experiences in the place.

“When you turn into our driveway, the house that we grew up in is gone,” Tanya said. “So that’s tough to see. It was tough to see the schools and tough to see everything that we are used to and everything that we grew up with gone and leveled and all the devastation around.”

Their story isn’t atypical for Lake Charles — at least not in the past year, where southwest Louisiana dealt with four natural disaster emergencies: Hurricane Laura in August 2020, Hurricane Delta six weeks later, a winter storm in February and then major flooding in May.

In May, The Weather Channel called Lake Charles “America’s most weather-battered city.”

The combination of the four forced thousands from their homes, shut down businesses and left a community unsure what would happen and what could come next. Some started to rebuild only to have the next disaster wipe out their progress. Each successive weather event left many in Lake Charles simply unable to rebuild.

What Tanya saw was Laura’s destruction — the first and most damaging of the disasters, a Category 4 Hurricane causing about $19 billion in damage in the United States with $17.5 billion in Louisiana. Laura’s wind speed of 150 mph was the strongest to hit southwest Louisiana since records started in 1851, according to

“What we have been through over the last year is unprecedented,” Lake Charles mayor Nic Hunter said. “It’s never happened in American history, to have this many federally declared natural disasters in a 10-month span all in the middle of the greatest pandemic in the last 100 years.

“And the federal response has certainly been less than stellar.”

When Laura made landfall on Aug. 27, no one could have anticipated what would happen. Lake Charles, sitting 30 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas border on Interstate 10, had endured hurricanes before.

The midsized city of 84,872 and its citizens — like many in Louisiana — have been through enough hurricanes to understand they are part of life. Jacquetta Fontenot, Terry’s mother, said she lived through her first one, Audrey, when she was 5.

When you’re used to something, you never quite know how to react. Typically, Jacquetta and Roy Fontenot stayed through hurricanes. Same with the Prudhomes.

Roy stayed home during Hurricane Rita in 2005. After that, he swore he’d never try to ride out a hurricane again. Not worth it. Except when the next one came, the familiar thought remained: “This is your home.” How could you leave it?

“I have sat through hurricanes. I let the family go and would stay home,” Roy said. “I don’t know what I was thinking I’d do. And this doesn’t occur to you until the wind starts really getting high and the structures, the house, begins to move. You think about, ‘Why did I stay here? What am I going to do? Am I going to hold the house down? Am I going to keep the shingles from tearing off the roof?’

“There’s absolutely nothing I can do here except be scared.”

That was initially Roy and Jacquetta’s plan for Laura. Then one of Terry’s sisters, Tamekia Barnes, who lives in Dallas, reached out and said absolutely not. She bought Roy and Jacquetta plane tickets, told them what time the flight was leaving and that they best be on the plane.

Despite their hesitation, on their 42nd wedding anniversary, Aug. 25, 2020, Roy and Jacquetta boarded the flight for Dallas. They wouldn’t return full time to the city until Feb. 5.

“There’s a time to go. There’s definitely a time where it’s too late and I’ve experienced that and that’s something I’ve never had a desire to do a second time,” Roy said. “So when things happen like that, you have to know what you’re going to do and you have to get it done because once it’s too late, it’s too late.

“And too late happens immediately.”

Three days after Laura, Barnes’ husband, Eddie, returned to Lake Charles to survey the damage. The roof started to cave in. A week later, Eddie and Roy visited again, went inside the home and saw the garage, kitchen and laundry room needed to be completely gutted.

Their home could be salvaged, but it would take a long time to get done. Like many others in Lake Charles, they filed claims with insurance companies. Unlike many others — Hunter said the housing situation in Lake Charles remains one of the biggest rebuilding issues — they haven’t had many issues with their claims.

“Our condition,” Jacquetta said, “was unlivable.”

Terry admits he was “numb” to it then. Having grown up in Lake Charles, playing college football at Tulane and spending his professional career in New Orleans with the Saints’ front office, he’d experienced hurricanes.

He’d lived through Katrina. And Rita. And so many others. When Laura started making news and a state of emergency was declared, he reached out to his parents and family. Asked if they were OK, if they wanted to leave and if they wanted to go to New Orleans. Then he went back to work.

“You just don’t know if this is going to be a bad one and what’s going to happen,” Terry said. “Or if it’s going to be one that goes through and you lose power for 24 hours. You just never know.”

Even in the weeks after, when his family started explaining the damage he didn’t fully grasp it. At least not until Tanya and the kids went back and checked in on her parents, who had ridden out Laura in a hotel, and saw their home destroyed. Tanya told Terry about families living in tents, lines for food and how this didn’t look like the Lake Charles they knew.

The damage was that extensive.

He stayed in touch and asked questions, but after taking his job with the Falcons after the season, he hadn’t been able to get back to Lake Charles himself until this summer, when his family spent 48 hours in the city. It was then he truly understood the devastation.

He saw tarps covering homes where there were once roofs. He ran into friends who told him they were living in trailers in the front yards of where their homes used to be. He drove past his middle school and high school, seeing how much damage they’d incurred. The hardest part was driving past Tanya’s home — and seeing it gone. The memories came back — playing basketball in the backyard and barbeques at the home. Their first date.

Terry is not an emotional person. Driving through Lake Charles, he continually thought about one thing: How can he help? Can he use his platform to bring attention to his hometown trying to recover but still nowhere close to what it once was?

“I am a product of my community so it’s a situation where I wouldn’t be the person I am now without Lake Charles and everything I had there,” Terry said. “So it is tough just to see it not in a good place.

“Right now, when you go back, whether it’s either one of the schools or Lake Charles as a whole, when you go back and see it in that kind of shape, it is tough.”

Terry and Tanya plan on helping — sifting through ideas of what, exactly, they can do. Whether they’ll put their efforts toward helping the schools in the community, where Jacquetta used to work as a bookkeeper, or something else. Even though they haven’t formulated a plan yet — Terry’s first year as Atlanta’s general manager has taken up most of his attention — Lake Charles is never too far from his head or his heart.

Help has been a tricky word in Lake Charles, a city experiencing the most unprecedented of unprecedented times, the world seemingly beating up the city at every turn.

It has left Hunter, the mayor, hopeful in seeing the resiliency of the citizens and exasperated by the lack of assistance his city has received. In the days after Laura, politicians piled into the city promising to help. They told Hunter his city would receive the supplemental disaster aid that so many other Americans cities and states have received in the past.

FEMA was on site, doing what it typically does post-disaster. But the supplemental aid — that’s where Hunter had hope. He told his constituents he was promised there’d be help. Then a month went by. Two. Six. A year.

Nothing substantial from Washington.

“We feel forgotten by the federal government,” Hunter said.

Two weeks ago, Louisiana — and Lake Charles — received supplemental disaster assistance. Typically, Hunter said, if a region receives half of what its long-term recovery estimates are from the government, that’s considered a win. Hunter said Louisiana estimated the area would need $3 billion to fully recover.

The government, almost 14 months to the day after Laura made landfall, gave Louisiana $594 million for Laura and Delta relief — a number far short of what the area needs and didn’t take into account the winter ice storm or May flooding. It’s about a billion dollars short of what they’d hoped for.

And it will make a long recovery process even longer.

It’s left Hunter and the local government searching for answers and ways to get creative to help its residents. The city’s bigger employers have committed to returning. The biggest issue, Hunter said, remains housing. They’ve been aggressive in going after contractors who have been fraudulent with their work or their services, creating a contractor fraud team while informing homeowners to pay attention to who they are hiring, when they are paying them and how they are paying them.

“The other side of that is we still have so many residents who do not have the available funds to fully re-establish themselves in housing and that has been the missing piece,” Hunter said. “That has been why we’ve been so desperate for supplemental disaster aid.”

Hunter didn’t want to prognosticate when his city will return to what it was before. There are areas of Lake Charles, Hunter said, that have recovered and look like Laura and Delta never happened. There are other areas of the parish where Laura looks like it hit a week ago, not a year.

“I do not believe there is any scenario where Lake Charles does not recover,” Hunter said. “But it’s going to be a longer road than it should be and it’s going to be a more cumbersome road than it should be.”

Roy and Jacquetta popped on a video conference call from their temporary home at the Country Club Cottages in Lake Charles — the first time they’d seen their son since the summer. Tanya logged on from the Fontenot home in Georgia, their children coming home from school, seeing their grandparents and saying hello.

It has been a tough year, although Jacquetta says she knows they are more fortunate than most. They haven’t had the insurance company fights. After questions about a contractor they were working with, one of her daughters flew in to oversee the project. The hope is to be back in their home by the start of 2022. Tanya’s parents are in the process of deciding whether they are going to rebuild at all or move to an already-built property and not deal with the hassle.

While Lake Charles is recovering, it is vastly different. Going to church has become more of a casual endeavor instead of wearing their Sunday best. One of Roy’s closest friends in the city used to walk by their garage, where he’d stop and they’d talk for hours.

That doesn’t happen anymore. They aren’t sure if it’ll ever happen again. Even returning to the city on a permanent basis became a battle of emotions.

“I didn’t want to come back to Lake Charles, being perfectly honest,” Jacquetta said. “The only reason I came back to Lake Charles was my husband, who like Tanya’s dad, wants to be in Lake Charles. I do not want to be in Lake Charles anymore.

“I see why people are so depressed. They don’t talk about that but depression, when I first came back, the heaviness and that depression spirit was just very, very bad. I see that.”

Roy admitted he has questions about their long-term standing there, too. “It’s not the same anymore,” he says, lamenting what they had — from relationships to a sense of community — that doesn’t quite feel like it once did. But he’s still not ready to move. The people they know haven’t all returned. This is where they spent their lives, where they raised their children and where home had been.

Usually Thanksgiving was their holiday to host — all seven Fontenot children invited to come from across the country back home. This year, it’ll be at Terry and Tanya’s instead. It’s just part of the adjustment. The frustration they are all dealing with, both in Lake Charles and from afar. They want to help and provide for a place that has meant so much to them. But at what cost? With everything that has changed, even though Lake Charles will always been in their hearts, do they want to stay?

“It does not feel like home anymore. It’s bad,” Jacquetta said. “So many people are gone and with COVID on top of that, it’s just not home anymore.

“It just doesn’t feel like home anymore, you know.”

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Notable Bets – November among worst months ever for betting public



The proud and confident American betting public just turned in the worst month of NFL gambling that veteran bookmakers can remember.

Entering Monday Night Football, underdogs have covered the spread nearly 60% of games in November. Twenty-three underdogs pulled outright upsets during the month, and heavily-bet primetime favorites seemed to go down on a weekly basis.

“From week to week, things appear to change dramatically,” Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos, said. “Dominant teams earlier in the year have come down to earth, and dogs have been covering at a much higher clip. There are 24 teams that are still fighting for playoff spots.”

Public bettors have struggled to figure it out and got crushed in November.

“There was one week where the players had only one game that they won, and another week they only won two games,” Jeff Stoneback, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas bookmaker, who oversees BetMGM’s sportsbook in Nevada, said. “We did have big wins, yes, but the number of wins, percentage-wise for us, was unbelievable. I was shocked.”

Sportsbooks’ net profit or loss on bets is known as the “hold,” as in the amount of money that bookmakers hold onto after everything is settled. Over the last three decades, Nevada sportsbooks on average have held around 5.5% of the money bet. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas was on pace to hold around 6.25% this November.

“It looks like it will wind up being one of our best hold months in Nevada on record,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.

For the betting public, the unfortunate November came directly after a hot streak. In October, sportsbooks endured three consecutive losing Sundays. But all that did was plumpen bankrolls in time for a bookmakers’ Thanksgiving feast.

Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, said Week 9 was when the season turned against bettors, pointing to the Jaguars’ upset of the Bills as two-touchdown underdogs as “especially notable” for his book.

Murray said Nov. 7, the Sunday featuring the Jags’ upset of the Bills, was the SuperBook’s best day of the season by far.

“There were some terrible Sundays for NFL favorites this month and that meant great returns for the house,” Murray said.

November also brought a string of heavily-bet favorites losing in primetime. The Titans and 49ers each beat the Rams on primetime in consecutive weeks, and the Dolphins upset the Ravens on a Thursday night, producing books’ biggest wins in November.

“It’s been an excellent November so far for the book,” Croucher added.

NFL notables

• Home teams are 77-101-1 against the spread) this season, which is on pace to the worst ATS mark in the Super Bowl era.

• Underdogs are 99-77-1 against the spread, which is on pace to be the best mark since 1980.

• With fewer games, betting handle on Sunday was lighter than in previous weeks, and there not many big decisions. Multiple bookmakers described Sunday’s results as “insignificant.”

• BetMGM offered a proposition wager on the Bears-Lions game on Thanksgiving: “Will both teams score 40 or more points?” A bettor placed a $227,026 bet on the “No” at -10,000 odds and won a net $2,270, with the Bears’ 16-14 win.

• Biggest reported bets at Caesars Sportsbook:
$445,000 on Packers money-line +115 vs. Rams (Win)
$402,500 on 49ers -3 (-115) vs. Vikings (Win)
$385,000 on Browns +3.5 vs. Ravens $220,000 on Titans +7.5 vs. Patriots (Loss)

College football notables

• Sunday opening conference championship game lines at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports:

Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. Texas-San Antonio PK, 71.5

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah -2, 59.5

Big 12: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State -5, 46.5

MAC: Kent State -3, 72 vs. Northern Illinois

MWC: Utah State vs. San Diego State -5, 51.5

Sun Belt: Appalachian State -3, 53.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

AAC: Houston vs. Cincinnati -12, 54.5

SEC: Georgia -6, 49.5 vs. Alabama

ACC: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh -3, 72.5

Big Ten: Iowa vs. Michigan -11, 41.5

• Georgia was around a 4-point favorite over Alabama before the weekend’s games. But after the Crimson Tide struggled to pull out a win against Auburn, the SuperBook reopened Georgia a 6.5-point favorites. The early action on the game was relatively even, with 56% of the money bet on the game as of Sunday on the favored Bulldogs.

• Michigan’s upset of Ohio State on Saturday produced the biggest win of the college football season to date for PointsBet.

What were the odds?

30-1: Alabama’s odds to beat Auburn late in the fourth quarter, trailing 10-3. The Crimson Tide would tie the score on a late Bryce Young touchdown pass and win the game in the fourth overtime. [odds via Caesars Sportsbook]

-200: Bryce Young’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Young is the odds-on favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (4-1) and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (15-1). Hutchinson was not listed last week, but caught the attention of oddsmakers-and bettors-after his three-sack performance in the Wolverines’ upset of Ohio State on Saturday. He now has the third-best odds.

-9: Duke closed as a 9-point underdog to Gonzaga in their college basketball showdown on Friday. It’s the first game the Blue Devils were more than a 7.5-point underdog, when ranked in the top 5, since at least the 1993-94 season. Duke won 84-81.

+14: The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Utah Jazz 98-97 as 14-point underdogs on Friday. It’s the largest upset, point spread-wise, of the NBA season so far.

Q&A with a bettor

Cal Spears is a Tennessee-based entrepreneur in the fantasy sports and betting space, who hit a $1,000, six-leg same-game parlay on the Raiders-Cowboys game on Thursday that paid $266,566.27. Talk about a fulfilling Thanksgiving!

The six legs were:

•DeSean Jackson any time touchdown scorer
•Ezekiel Elliott over 19.5 receiving yards
Josh Jacobs over 19.5 receiving yards
Michael Gallup over 100 receiving yards (alternate line)
Tony Pollard over 16.5 receiving yards
•Elliott any time touchdown scorer

Spears communicated with ESPN’s David Purdum this week about his improbable win. The interview has been organized and edited for clarity.

Q: Take us through your process when creating this parlay. What was the thinking behind it?

While looking at late swaps for my DFS lineups during the Bears game it dawned on me Desean Jackson’s chances of catching a bomb were underestimated. I opened Fanduel to check his yardage prop and they didn’t even offer one. So I bet him to score a TD at +700 and then added on the other legs I liked. I actually hit another parlay that didn’t include the Zeke TD and the Pollard Over for $91,000.

Q: Were you at Thanksgiving dinner when it all played out?

My girlfriend and I had plans to do Thanksgiving with my family in Madisonville, Kentucky, but we both came down with colds. We got negative COVID tests on Wednesday but still did not feel well Thursday morning. So we scrapped our plans and ended up laying on the couch all Thanksgiving watching football. I would not have made this bet if we made the trip to Kentucky; betting is not yet legal there.

Q: Takes us through the sweat, please.

The sweat couldn’t have started any better with a DeSean touchdown just a few minutes into the game. Three quarters later it looked completely dead then Gallup came to life with catches of 41, 32, and 17 to cross 100 yards. Going into overtime I just needed one catch each from Zeke and Jacobs. I watched in disbelief as things fell exactly how I needed and then triple sanity checked stats to make sure.

Q: How did you celebrate and what will you do with the winnings?

The endorphins kicked in immediately and I was ready to celebrate but then I remembered it was Thanksgiving night and I had a cold. A proper celebration is pending.

The first thing I did on Friday morning was donate $10,000 each to five non-profits that make an impact locally here in Nashville. I was unbelievably lucky to hit this and am very happy to share my good fortune. Not sure what we will do with the rest but there will definitely be a big Christmas for friends and family.

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Suzann Pettersen to captain European team at 2023 Solheim Cup



FINCA CORTESIN, Spain — Suzann Pettersen, who won the Solheim Cup for Europe in 2019 with the last shot of her career, will captain the team four years later for its second straight title defense.

The Norwegian’s 7-foot putt for birdie at the final hole at Gleneagles saw Europe reclaim the biggest prize in women’s team golf and she retired immediately afterward.

Pettersen was vice captain when the Europeans retained the title at the Inverness Club in Ohio in September, also under Catriona Matthew, and now she has taken over as captain.

“This is the biggest honor of my career,” Pettersen said.

The next edition of the Solheim Cup will be played at Finca Cortesín in Andalucía from Sept. 18-24, 2023.

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Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020



ASHBURN, Va. — When Kemberly Gamble watched the 2021 NFL draft at the urging of her son, one thought raced through her mind: My baby should be there. Instead, her baby, Chris Oats, was beside her in their two-bedroom apartment, fighting to regain full control of his body after a stroke he suffered in 2020.

And it was Oats’ University of Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis hearing his name called in the first round instead of Oats. Davis had replaced his close friend and teammate in the lineup and turned himself into the 19th overall pick by the Washington Football Team.

As Oats works to do things like walk, talk and regain the use of his left side, Davis works to become a quality starter in the NFL for Washington, which plays the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“The only thing Jamin could have done wrong,” Gamble said, “is messed it up. You don’t have to honor my son, just please remember him. That’s what Jamin stands for. He doesn’t owe my son anything. All he has to do is keep working. This is an opportunity that can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”

Nobody knows that better than Oats. Nobody feels that responsibility more than Davis. They are tied together by friendship and the opportunity created by Oats’ misfortune.

“The way the situation unfolded is just heartbreaking,” Davis said.

In truth, Davis would have received an opportunity for more playing time his junior season after finishing strong as a sophomore. In his final three games of the 2019 regular season, he finished with a combined 19 tackles, including two for a loss. He’s been steadily developing as a rookie starter for Washington.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said, “especially when it comes to keying and diagnosing and trusting his keys and responding quickly to what he knows. … He’s headed in the right direction. Very accountable; wants to be really, really good, has good work habits.”

Dreaming of the NFL

Oats, a four-star recruit out of high school, was outstanding at times in his second season at Kentucky and the clear leader for one of two starting jobs available for the 2020 season. Oats’ and Davis’ close friend, DeAndre Square, was expected to win the other starting job. In one three-play sequence at the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech at the end of the 2019 season, Oats shot through the line for consecutive tackles for a loss and then made an open-field tackle on third down.

“You’re like, OK, this kid is about to take off,” said Jon Sumrall, Kentucky’s inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “Chris was uniquely gifted. He’s long, rangy, could run really well. In coverage, he did some stuff very easily because of his length and athleticism.”

Said Davis: “We can talk for hours about how good a player Chris was. I remember the Belk Bowl. … It was like, man, this mofo is going to the league.”

That was Oats’ dream since he was young, he said via text. In fact, Davis said he, Oats and Square — a senior at Kentucky — used to discuss becoming first-round picks. Right before the 2020 draft, the three were on a group text vowing to have their name called in future years.

Sumrall called them the three amigos.

“I wasn’t out at the bars and partying or anything like that, so when I came across someone extremely similar to me in a lot of ways, I instantly clicked with Chris,” Davis said.

They would talk, play video games (Fortnite, Madden and NBA 2K) and go to Buffalo Wild Wings once a week. Davis would order the boneless wings with barbecue sauce, mostly to provide more choices to the table. Oats would order barbecued chicken and potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Square opted for the garlic parmesan.

“I get memories on my Snapchat all the time,” Davis said, “from when we were sitting in the locker room laughing or playing videos of Square dancing and me and Chris making fun of him. Outside of ball, all just going over to his house and playing video games or watching film together. Things like that made us closer.”

Which made their next chapter more difficult.

Making Oats proud

The stroke occurred two days before Mother’s Day in 2020, while Kentucky’s players were at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sumrall informed his players, dispensing whatever information he could that Gamble OK’d. Players eventually realized the severity of the situation.

“I thought it was a sick joke,” Davis said. “Then my thought was, ‘Is he OK? Is there any way we can see him?'”

Sumrall noticed an almost immediate change in Davis when they returned to campus. His practice effort was never in question, but he started watching more film — sometimes arriving a half-hour or 45 minutes early before meetings.

“It became like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Sumrall said. “Every day he came into the meeting room with more intentional focus than ever before.”

Davis felt it, too.

“It was like a reality check,” he said. “Going forward we knew [Oats] wouldn’t want us to sit around bummed out about the situation and feel pity or anything like that. So in my mind it’s like you’ve got to step up and make him proud.”

Square told Davis: It’s your time now.

“He knew what he had to do,” Square said. “We all knew Jamin was probably the best linebacker on the team. He had freakish athletic ability. We always said if he mentally gets the plays down, he’ll probably start over any of us. We were just waiting for him to show it.

“He was ready for the moment.”

Last season, Kentucky would rotate having a defensive player wear Oats’ No. 22. Before a game against Mississippi State, Davis saw the 22 jersey in his locker. He looked to the locker next to him — Oats’ old nook that contained a picture of Chris.

“I said, ‘I’ll do my best to represent you tonight,'” Davis said.

He finished with 11 tackles and an interception.

Kentucky discontinued that practice this season — it became difficult for the Oats family to see the No. 22 on the field. Instead, the team breaks down every practice with a “22!” Everyone has Oats Strong T-shirts made by Gamble; they’re selling hoodies now, too.

Davis wears a 22 Oats Strong band on his wrist, leaving it on for some games. Sumrall said when Oats attends games, he takes the freshmen over to see him; he wants them to know someone who he said “will forever be a Wildcat.”

‘This is not your end’

While it’s a constant battle for Oats, he isn’t jealous of his friend. He watches Washington’s games when he can and seeks out YouTube highlights. He will text Davis reminders to play fast, play smart. They text weekly; sometimes Davis checks in with Gamble. Oats said Davis’ effort is there and “he just needs more time on that level.”

“I’m not the selfish type,” Oats said. “He got there because he is a freak athlete and his talent, and what I’ve learned during this hard time is that I will get there. It will just take time.”

Oats was the one who pressed his family to watch the draft. They wanted to support Davis.

“We talked to Jamin before the draft,” Gamble said. “We’ve always been supportive of everything, so [Chris] never felt, ‘Man, that should have been me.’ When Chris was able to talk after his stroke, or text, he told him, ‘Go out and ball, this is your time.'”

But there is a definite understanding of his own situation.

“He knows where he could have been to change all our lives,” Gamble said. “But I explained to him: As a mom, you being here and being able to touch you and not being six feet under — because we’ve lost so many people this year — that’s all I need. He’s an awesome kid; never in trouble. He went to school, got his scholarship and went to class and to be a year away from your dream and something like this happens, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong for this to happen to him. That’s where we encourage him and let him know, ‘This is not your end; you have a bigger testimonial in your life.'”

Oats has 100% control of his right side and has increased his left side to 50% — it was 40% just a month ago. He’s able to stand on his own and they’re working on strengthening his core to help him walk again. For now, he’s doing occupational therapy twice a week, allowing him to slowly regain independence. They would like to get him into a physical therapy facility that deals mostly with athletes, key for his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame.

He attended Kentucky’s home games this season and saw the Wildcats play Georgia last year. His mom found it too tough to attend last year, but has gone this season. She reads her son for clues as to his emotions.

“I make sure I pay attention to his eyes and facial expressions,” she said. “I can tell when it’s too much. He does this thing with his eyes, they get real big and he bites on his fingernails. He’s been like that since he was a kid. That hasn’t changed since the stroke. When he’s getting ready to tear up or holding back tears, his eyes get big.”

He’s constantly watching games, whether of Kentucky or other teams, and he attends high school games on Friday nights. Oats said he tries not to cry while watching games, “but I do get in my thoughts.”

When that happens, he said he turns to a prayer from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

He needed that prayer the first time he watched an NFL game after the stroke. He told his mom: “I should be playing.” She said: “Just get healthy; it’s a blessing you’re alive. Football is just a job; it’s not who you are.”

The simple things

Gamble needed to quit her $11-an-hour florist job to take care of her son full time. She also moved the family into a larger apartment, though that increased her rent by $400. Her 26-year-old daughter, KeAirra, also helps, and Davis has chipped in. Insurance pays some of Oats’ medical costs and a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000 that helps with living expenses and allows them to buy a custom-made van.

Gamble proudly says they live within their means. But she does splurge for him once a year when it comes to sneakers. She would take some of her tax return money and buy him a pair of size 15 LeBrons, something she did again this past spring for $189. Though he’s still on scholarship and gets shoes from Kentucky, he uses these in therapy.

“I don’t spoil him or give everything he wants,” she said, “but the simple things that people take for granted is joy for him.”

Oats wants to become an announcer or a coach; he wants to stay around the game. He wants to get back to himself.

“Football is his first love, and it hurts,” Gamble said. “I tell him to talk it out. He has anxiety over things. It was rough. This is a rough season for us, but he’s making it.”

Last month, Oats posted a picture on Twitter of himself, Square and Davis from a practice. Oats is sitting on the ground, his boys on either side. They are smiling. Sometimes he posts photos of the past; sometimes it’s of the present.

But Davis said he doesn’t need the photos to remember Oats’ impact. He thinks of Oats, whether it’s at practice or even on game day: “All the time; literally, it’s all the time.”

“It’s a constant reminder that this could be taken at any given moment,” Davis said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and play like every snap will be your last. You should be early to meetings, doing whatever you can to go out and play ball and have fun. … The only thing you can do in this situation is make him and his family proud. We’ll always be close.”

Oats said football remains a part of him. Right now, though, his proudest moments aren’t about his tackles but rather something basic yet profound: “That I will be able to walk and talk again.”

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