This article, written by Layne Saliba, was originally published in The Red & Black.
There’s a house on Valley Street in LaGrange, Georgia. It’s where Terry Godwin spent his early years. And just near that short, dead-end street is a field where Godwin used to go to play all sorts of games, but mostly football, with the older kids in his neighborhood. It’s sort of where it all started for him.
It didn’t have to be that way, though. It could have happened on an actual field with kids his age, but Godwin never really liked the altered rules of little league sports.
He could hit a baseball to the outfield when he was young. He was just five years old, and his parents, Olivia and Terry Sr., signed him up to play T-ball since he’d grown up around the sport. His uncles, Aundra Trammell and Jerry Godwin, played baseball, so Godwin naturally wanted to get in on the action to follow in their footsteps.
“He went to run the bases and they told him he only could go to one base,” Godwin’s mom said. “He said ‘I don’t want to play this anymore’ because he thought it was going to actually be like real baseball.
The same thing happened with football. Godwin only wanted to tackle. So when he was told he had to pull a flag from his opponent’s waist, he didn’t want to play that either. He simply had to wait until the rules caught up.
Growing up on Valley Street, Godwin was always the tough kid. He had to be.
He didn’t have any brothers. It was just him and his two older sisters, Keyatta and Terryuana, until his younger sister, Tyterria, came along.
“I mean, he wanted motorcycles and we had given him all that,” Godwin’s mother said. “And he was just rough with it.”
Since then, Godwin’s life has been all about proving he’s tough and making tough decisions.
Lil’ T goes to Callaway
Growing up in LaGrange was fun for Godwin and his family. His mom and dad went to and graduated from LaGrange High School. That’s where his older sisters went too.
He played for the Monarchs, a travel baseball team in LaGrange.
The team was specifically started for him and his friends by Broderick Stargell, who was like Godwin’s second father. He saw something special in Godwin and his group of friends.
“I just wanted to be a part of what they had going,” said Stargell, who still stays in touch with Godwin to this day. “So in order for me to keep my hands on them, I had to kind of dangle baseball out in front of them to kind of grab their attention.”
Travel baseball isn’t cheap, though. But Stargell was so serious about keeping this group on the right track and making sure it had a bright future that he started a trucking company just to fund the baseball team.
That trucking company, Allstar Transport, was around for about five years, which was just enough time to get that group of kids through travel baseball.
“He would come by in his little Honda, away from his family, and pick Terry up every day while I was working or his father was working and take him to baseball practice,” Godwin’s mom said. “And Terry loved it.”
All of that was good, but eventually, the Godwins needed a bigger home, something nicer to live in because their home in LaGrange just wasn’t working anymore. So, they found a house in Hogansville, Georgia, just a little over 10 miles from LaGrange.
Also, just out of the LaGrange High School district.
“I really didn’t want to leave my friends or anything like that and transfer schools and try to get to know people,” Godwin said. “Because, I mean, as a young kid, that’s kind of hard.”
Hogansville is a much smaller town than LaGrange, and the transition was difficult for Godwin. He couldn’t just walk to his friends’ houses anymore or walk out his own front door and meet up with other kids to play football across the street. But the change was necessary.
Their house in LaGrange was built in the 1920s. It was old and needed work. So after looking around for homes, the Godwins found one the right size in Hogansville for a good price.
Even though Godwin struggled at first, he grew to like Hogansville and eventually Callaway High School, so much so that when his mother offered to move him back to LaGrange, he said no.
“I made a brotherhood with some of the guys that were in middle school,” Godwin said “We went in high school together and, I mean, just being able to connect with people like that, it will take you a long way.”
And it did take him a long way. The relationships carried him through three sports at Callaway. He played football, baseball and basketball, all of which he excelled at. But the two that were at the forefront were football and baseball.
“He always brought a positive attitude on the field,” said Pete Wiggins, Godwin’s high school football coach. “At practice he was a leader, in good times and bad. He is a positive guy that works his butt off and that’s why he is where he is.”
Godwin was being recruited by top football programs like Alabama and Auburn, on top of Georgia, while being recruited by Major League Baseball teams as well. He actually took part in some workouts with the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers.
As he made his way through high school, especially throughout his senior year, there was a lot of pressure on the thought of what his future would look like.
And the truth is, he didn’t know what it would look like. That was one of the tough decisions he had to make. And it was only made tougher around the time he was set to commit to play football at Georgia.
Father and son
Godwin and his father had a unique relationship from the very beginning.
Godwin’s father did not have the closest relationship with his own father, so he decided he wasn’t going to be that way when he had kids.
“I just had my mother,” Godwin’s father said. “And I always had in my head that I wasn’t going to leave my kids. I was going to make them have everything they wanted.”
So that’s what he did. The only downside to that was it took him away from his children quite a bit, especially after Godwin’s mother became a stay-at-home mom when she injured her back at work and couldn’t work anymore. Godwin’s father had to work even more hours, and eventually ended up working two jobs.
Godwin quickly became a momma’s boy since he spent so much time with her and his sisters, but that didn’t mean he and his father weren’t still connected.
“Him and his dad have a bond that’s really, really close,” Godwin’s mother said. “Because when he’s there, it’s about them two only, because he’s trying to catch up and build that father and son relationship.”
Godwin’s father only wanted to see his son succeed. So when his son was doing so well in baseball and football, Godwin’s father couldn’t have been more thrilled.
But on Jan. 5, 2014, the thrill was suddenly subdued when Godwin’s father got a strange feeling while at work. He wasn’t feeling well, so he went to the hospital. After running some tests, doctors found that he had colon cancer.
This was just weeks before Godwin was set to make his college commitment to Georgia, and it caused a lot of confusion in the family’s life.
“Football and all that was really out of the picture in my mind,” Godwin said. “I was so focused on him, making sure he was good. And he told me to keep doing what I was doing, making him proud and I told him as long as I was making him proud I was going to do what he wanted me to do.”
The main thing Godwin’s father wanted his son to do was to not choose something simply based off the fact that he was sick. And that was hard for Godwin.
During the early part of his father’s colon cancer, Godwin was faced with two options.
He could stay committed to Georgia and play football or he could sign with a MLB team, which would come with an immediate signing bonus. It’s something he seriously considered and struggled with while he was going through the recruiting process.
In reality, Georgia almost missed out on one of its best wide receiver recruits because Godwin wanted to provide for his family while prioritizing his father’s health.
He eventually decided to stay with Georgia, though, and enroll in summer classes once he graduated from Callaway.
But that didn’t stop the Atlanta Braves from calling.
“I came up to Georgia on June 1 and I was in my dorm and my mom called me and said they drafted me,” Godwin said. “And to this day, I still never gave the Braves an answer. I didn’t call them back or give them a yes or no or anything.”
It wasn’t a decision Godwin took lightly. He said he sat in his room and had to think about it and pray about it a lot. In the end, he had to be reminded that even though the money from a MLB team could have helped the family financially with the things his father needed, he had to make the decision that was best for him.
“I just had to let him know that we were going to be OK,” Godwin’s mother said.
Godwin’s wideout coach and mentor at Callaway, Kareem Douhne, understood what his player was going through. His wife, Amanda, was the oncology pharmacist at WellStar of LaGrange, formerly West Georgia Healthcare, where Godwin’s father was treated.
“I’m sure he broke down a couple of times, but I didn’t really see that,” he said. “I could see it in his eyes that he was hurting a little bit and worried about his dad, but it was almost like playing a sport. He wasn’t going to let that defeat him and he was going to push and push and be positive for his family and his dad. And I think his dad fed off that.”
“That’s just him being him”
Godwin is a junior at Georgia now and has become a big part of the Bulldogs’ receiving game.
He’s second on the team with 24 receptions for 492 yards and five touchdowns, just one touchdown behind the team leader, Javon Wims.
And he’s stood out quite a few times this season, too. Against Mississippi State, Godwin caught a flea-flicker pass from Jake Fromm for a touchdown. Against Notre Dame, Godwin caught a pass, one-handed, near the sideline of the end zone that was SportCenter’s top play for the night.
But for the people that know him best, those types of plays aren’t out of the ordinary for Godwin.
“I don’t even get excited anymore because that’s just him being him,” said Tez Parks, Godwin’s former teammate at Callaway and current running back at Southern Miss. “I’ve been watching him do stuff like this for years and years.”
While Godwin’s freshman season went by without any problems, he struggled during his sophomore year.
“That second year, I think it kind of hit,” Godwin’s mother said. “We had to really pray a lot because I think it took a toll on him.”
She didn’t know what it was that bothered him. It might have been the coaching change, it might have been the stress of playing a bigger role in games or even just the adjustment of college.
He made it through that, though, just like he made it through transferring schools at a young age, dealing with his father’s cancer diagnosis and the choice of whether or not to pursue professional baseball or not.
Godwin has made it through all of those tough situations and he has his family, especially his father, to thank.
“Even though I didn’t get to see him a lot as a little kid, I still knew that he was there,” Godwin said of his father. “I knew that he cared and stuff like that. He made me the man I am today and I’m trying to follow in his footsteps.”