- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

MARRERO, La. (AP) - The three-minute video shows the inside of a ransacked home.

Most of the furniture is gone. Trash covers the carpeted floors. A couch is upturned. Closets are raided. Windows are cracked. Walls are dirty.

Malcolm Divinity, all of 4 years old, is seated on the metal frame of a bunk bed - his bunk bed. The pillows are gone, and so are the sheets. The comforter and the mattresses were removed as well, revealing bare, gray steel springs. The skeleton of a child’s once-colorful bunk bed is the only thing they left in Malcolm’s room.

He’s on the brink of tears. A look of sadness and confusion crawls across his face as his phone-wielding father takes a few steps closer to his youngest son.

Malcolm mumbles something. Where’d it all go? What happened?

The Divinitys never got those answers, and they’ve moved on.

“We’re starting over,” said Leslie Gilmore, mother of Malcolm, Marcus, Makala and Michael Divinity Jr. “But it’s OK.”

Michael Jr., the oldest of Leslie and Michael Divinity Sr.’s four children, began school at LSU in January as a midyear enrollee. He’s one of the headliners in the Tigers’ 2016 signing class - a highly recruited, 6-foot-3 ex-John Ehret star expected to slide into the team’s new 3-4 defense at outside linebacker.

He began his first spring football practice at LSU on March 7. He already has gained 15 pounds in two months in Baton Rouge to reach a mark (of 240) that coaches set. He has a new car - a 2010 Dodge Charger - that he’s paying for himself, Leslie said. He lives in plush dormitories and eats at the spiffy on-campus dining hall.

He’s experiencing college life, meeting new people, studying new topics and enduring grueling training with workout partner Darrel Williams, an ex-teammate at Ehret.

And there’s this: He might have the best opportunity of any freshman to be on the field this fall.

Life is good.

Back in his hometown of Marrero, the Divinitys are happy that their son is not here. Already there are six people crammed in the three-bedroom home of Leslie’s sister, Tamill.

In November, the Divinitys’ Marrero home - the one they bought nine years ago - was raided during the foreclosure process. Leslie, a teacher’s assistant, and Michael Sr., a Winn-Dixie produce manager, could no longer afford their mortgage.

In the middle of the foreclosure process, Leslie arrived at her house at 3 p.m. on a November day to find it trashed, nearly empty of valuables. The Divinitys assume it was the bank’s way of saying, “Get out.”

Earlier this month, Michael Sr. and Leslie held the only football memorabilia left of their oldest son’s sparkling high school career: a plaque Michael Jr. only recently received, and his red John Ehret practice jersey. At least four memory-filled footballs are gone, along with other trophies and plaques.

“He took it the hardest,” Michael Sr. said.

Michael Divinity Sr.’s mother called him to deliver the shocking news: His girlfriend, 20-year-old Leslie Gilmore, was playing tackle football with some others.

The shocking part: She was seven months’ pregnant with their first-born, Michael Jr.

“I always wanted to be a wide receiver,” Leslie said, smiling.

Her eldest son began his football career on offense. He quarterbacked the freshman team at John Curtis, a football powerhouse in River Ridge that has won 26 state titles since 1975. But Michael never wanted to play quarterback or receiver or running back or any other offensive position.

“He didn’t want to be hit,” Michael Sr. said before his longtime partner - the two never married - finished his thought.

“He wanted to hit,” Leslie said. “He wanted to dish it out.”

There were other reasons for Michael’s eventual departure from John Curtis to John Ehret, the public school just a few blocks from his home that hadn’t reached the state championship game in nearly three decades.

Leslie said she worked two jobs to pay the tuition at John Curtis, difficult for a mother of four. And she rarely saw her oldest son. Michael left the house at 6 a.m. for the 30-plus-minute morning commute across the Mississippi River. Sometimes he wouldn’t return home until after dinner time, she said.

Michael made the surprising move to John Ehret after his freshman year. Leaving a celebrated, private, Christian school for a public-school program is something that doesn’t happen often in New Orleans.

The private schools have the freedom to pluck the city’s best athletes from their public-school districts. In many ways, Michael began to turn the tide - at least at Ehret, coach Corey Lambert said. He reversed a trend of star players leaving the West Bank for private programs on the East Bank.

“I’m not knocking Curtis or the (Archbishop) Rummels, but I’m letting people know you don’t have to go from Marrero across the river,” Lambert said. “We went to the (state championship game). You don’t have to go across the river. You’re still going to get a quality education. We’re going to have competitive football, study halls.

“I tell people all of the time, ‘If I just keep my kids in Marrero, we’re going to be fine.’ There’s plenty of talent in the area.”

Michael proved that. He immediately started at outside linebacker as a sophomore at Ehret, helping lead the Patriots as a senior last season to their first state championship game appearance in 30 years. They lost to Zachary, but the run will only help Ehret coaches convince Marrero kids to stay close to home.

“It’s been an ongoing thing for years - even when I was a player in 2005,” Ehret defensive coordinator Bryan Crayton said. “As of lately, we’ve kind of closed those floodgates. Kids are staying home. If you’re from Marrero, you’re coming to John Ehret.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for Michael. He started at Curtis seeking recognition, he told his dad. How would he be recognized at Ehret, he wondered.

Michael Sr.’s response: “Do what you have to do, and you’ll get recognized.”

For the first time in nine years, Leslie Gilmore did not host her family in her home for Christmas.

She no longer had a home.

A neighbor told Leslie that two or three moving trucks pulled up to her home that November day, loaded the family’s valuables and left. It’s unclear where the family’s televisions, bed sets, dinner table and sofa and Michael Jr.’s memorabilia are.

Marcus Divinity, the family’s second child who’s a computer whiz and a junior at Ehret, said he saw some of his father’s DVDs at a local pawn shop. Food and clothes remained in the home.

The Divinitys said they had planned to marry this year after a two-decade courtship that began on a basketball court in the Marrero projects. But they put off the wedding.


“The rings were in our dresser,” Leslie said. “They took the dresser.”

The Gilmore family rallied after the foreclosure raid. Leslie is one of nine children. Michael Sr. is one of eight. Tamill welcomed the family into her home, where she lived alone. Her daughter is off at college.

The bank eventually sold the Divinitys’ home for $101,000 - $22,000 below the appraised value.

The Divinitys believe the bank is behind the raid. In an extensive investigation four years ago, The Huffington Post uncovered multiple lawsuits filed by homeowners who claim bank contractors ransacked their homes during foreclosure ordeals and even took valuables.

Leslie and Michael Sr. don’t plan to pursue the issue. The house had termite damage and didn’t have sufficient insulation, Leslie said. The family would have had to pour thousands of dollars into it to continue living there. She’s ready to start over somewhere else - with the kids, she said, as her focus.

“My habits are my kids,” she said.

Leslie and Michael Sr. spent thousands on recruiting trips with Michael Jr. The family of six loaded into the car for summer trips to Jacksonville for an Under Armour camp, then drove to Atlanta and to Tuscaloosa for an Alabama camp.

They went on a Texas tour of camps as well, hitting Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M.; Those were not “official visits,” meaning the financial burden was placed on a family already struggling.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get our kid recognized,” Leslie said. “We try to put a lot of faith in all of our kids. You’ve got to make them believe.”

Michael used four of an NCAA-maximum five official visits last fall. He visited Oregon, Texas A&M;, LSU and Florida State. Schools can pay for food and lodging for a recruit and a recruit’s guardian on official visits - as opposed to unofficial visits or camp trips.

Only Michael Jr. and Leslie trekked to Oregon, though. Michael Sr. was left at home.

“Schools can’t pay for flights,” she said.

“Why’d they take my stuff?” Michael Jr. asked his father as he walked into his trashed and near-empty bedroom a few months ago.

“It was very emotional for him,” Michael Sr. said. “Everything just started to get good, and now that happens.”

It was a crazy time for Michael Jr. His high school career was winding down. His high school team was marching toward the state championship. He abruptly decided to drop his two-month-old commitment to LSU, too.

And, of course, he lost the home where he was raised - the place where he began to take shape as a rangy, fast, versatile linebacker.

Divinity is expected to play the same position in new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s alignment as he did in Lambert’s and Crayton’s unit at Ehret.

There, he played the Jack linebacker position. The Jack is the most versatile of the four linebackers in the 3-4 defense. He’s expected to pass-rush, play the run and cover in pass coverage.

Michael enjoys playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 so much that Lambert thought LSU would have lost his commitment without the switch. He recommitted to LSU on Jan. 2, a day after the Tigers announced Aranda’s hire.

“I think he’ll be a first-round draft pick,” Lambert said. “He’s one of the best 3-4 linebackers in the country. He’s going to be 240 (pounds). He can run. I thought if LSU would have stayed in a 4-3, they would have lost him.”

Scheme was one of several reasons Michael chose LSU over his runner-up, A&M.; He saw the potential to play early in Baton Rouge - and one other thing, his mother said.

“He’s a momma’s boy,” Leslie laughed.

LSU did not sign a linebacker in its 2015 class. The program signed two linebackers in 2014, and one of those players remains on the team. Depth at linebacker is a lingering issue.

Coaches moved defensive back Devin Voorhies, a 2014 signee, from safety to linebacker last year. Safety Corey Thompson is expected to play some linebacker, and Devin White, another midyear enrollee, can play linebacker and running back.

The bottom line: LSU needs linebackers.

“He went in there at the right time,” Leslie said. “He’s got a chance to start.”

Leslie’s message to her son is about education more than anything else. She dropped out of Southern as a sophomore after becoming pregnant with Michael. Michael Sr. dropped out of Ehret when he became a father. He has since received his GED.

On this sun-splashed early March day, the two sit on Tamill’s brown couch in Tamill’s living room in Tamill’s home.

They don’t have one.

“You live and you learn,” Leslie said. “Michael’s in college now. A good education can go a long way to him making more money than his parents.”


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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