Spring 2021 Magazine

Guided by God, Bucs linebacker Devin White leads Tampa to NFC title game

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the NFC title game for the first time since January 2003 after defeating the division-rival Saints, 30-20, on Sunday in New Orleans. The Saints previously swept the Bucs in the teams’ two regular-season matchups.

Although Tampa Bay’s offense gets most of the attention, it was the defense that controlled the game. The Buccaneers picked off future Hall of Famer Drew Brees three times and held the Saints to 10 points below their season scoring average of 30.1 points per game.

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After missing both the regular-season finale and Tampa Bay’s wild-card win over Washington due to COVID-19 protocols, linebacker Devin White made his presence felt in his first-ever NFL playoff game. He led the way with 11 total tackles (10 solo), a fumble recovery and an interception, with both of his takeaways leading to Tampa Bay touchdowns.

“The No. 1 thing about this game was my team got the victory,” White said in his postgame press conference. “Everything that happened in the game, that was just God’s will. Just me playing in the system, all of us being together, all of us being on the same page, all of us believing in one another.”

White is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s best linebackers in his second year in the league. He was named a team captain before this season and racked up a team-leading 140 combined tackles and nine sacks this fall. His performance earned him a second-team All-Pro selection.

The Bucs hoped White would develop into the anchor of the defense when they drafted him No. 5 overall in 2019 out of LSU, after he won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker. White announced his decision to turn pro in a video in which he thanked God and referenced Luke 12:48, which says in part, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

“As I look back on it,” White told ESPN about the draft process, “I feel like it was Heaven-sent that they [were] just telling me, ‘You’re home. You’re home, get used to this place.’ That’s why I say God makes no mistakes.”

Yet before White’s career could get off the ground, he found himself dealing with a setback. He sprained his MCL in Week 2 of his rookie year and missed the next three games.

“I had so much time not to be on the field but just to be studying and it made me a better player,” White told Sports Illustrated last August. “So, when I came back, it was all about playmaking. I think I went out there and I showed being able to win Defensive Rookie of the Month two months in a row — that was just a blessing, just letting me know it was all God’s timing, even though I didn’t start off so well, but I finished great.”

White’s mother, Coesha Standokes, reflected on her son’s journey in a story posted on the team’s website in October 2019, attributing his success to his hard work and devotion to God.

“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,” she said. “And before that, it’s God and then family. It all comes full circle and I love it.”

White and his Bucs teammates will seek to earn a spot in this year’s Super Bowl as they travel to Green Bay to face the NFC’s No. 1-seeded Packers. The NFC championship game is set for Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET on FOX.

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