by Liaudwin Seaberry Jr. —
Dewayne Betts Jr. has traveled a winding road from football star at KIPP Collegiate School to defensive back at Nicholls State University, never losing touch with the city of Memphis.
“The city of Memphis helped develop me into the person that I became,” said Betts, whose Nicholls State Colonels play the University of Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“I am grateful for the experiences I went through because they taught me a lot of valuable lessons and perseverance.”
The game opens the 2021-22 regular season for both teams. For Betts, a redshirt junior, it will be the next step in an unconventional journey. Mike Smith – Bett’s godfather and a Memphis-area football coach – is eager to take in the performance.
“I met Dewayne when he was a young kid, and I was blessed to be able to be a part of his upbringing and development into a young man,” Smith said. “To me, it was more than just coaching Dewayne on the field. It was about how I could help him develop skills he would need off the field.”
A star quarterback at the high school level, Betts received numerous scholarship offers. A top prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, he chose to play at Mississippi Valley State (MVSU). After redshirting his first season, Betts amassed 700-plus yards and scored four touchdowns in limited action as a quarterback in his second year.
In search of a more fulfilling experience, Betts transferred to Coahoma Community College in Coahoma County, Mississippi in 2018. A transcript issue sidelined him for the 2018-19 season.
While he yearned to flourish as a quarterback at the college-level, Betts reasoned that a transition to safety on the defensive side was in his best interest. He found the help he needed to make that move in Coahoma’s defensive backs coach, C. J. Bailey.
“Dewayne was raw coming into the program and I was able to work with him on technique and drop and things he needed to do in order to be a dominant defender,” Bailey said. “His talent was off the charts. I felt that he possessed the potential to be a big factor at the (next) level.”
During the 2019-20 season, Betts shifted between safety and quarterback, earning first-team honors as a safety from the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges. His efforts landed him a scholarship at the University of South Alabama, where he played the next season.
Off the field, Betts ran into trouble that led to his suspension, setting up a relocation to his fourth college in five seasons.
“I had to do a lot of soul searching and I had a lot of good people helping me in terms of finding somewhere to play this season,” Betts said. “When I saw that Nicholls State would be facing off against Memphis, it certainly drew me in.”
Smith knows that Betts is feeling the pressure of wanting to perform well for the Colonels against the Tigers on Saturday night. He has funneled Betts some familiar advice: don’t let the moment overwhelm you; let the plays come to you.
“Dewayne is going to have a lot of support in the stadium and it’s going to be electric at the Liberty Bowl,” Smith said, with notable pride.
“It will be awesome knowing that he gets to play in the city where it all started.”
Betts’ former high school head coach, Tim Thompson, understands that it won’t be easy for Betts to treat Saturday’s game like just another game.
“I think Dewayne will use the game as a platform to excel on,” said Thompson, “and I’m looking forward to watching.”