It was about the last thing Dwain Jenkins expected to hear on Christmas Eve.
“I was actually walking into Midnight Mass when I got the first news that there was a shooting that had taken place in Lutcher. With my brother working for the sheriff’s department, whenever one of those incidents take place, your thoughts are to make sure he is OK. He’s been involved in a couple of those incidents,” said Jenkins.
After finding out that his brother was fine, Jenkins, the head football coach at Lutcher, learned one of his former players – Thaddeus Watis – had been killed in an altercation outside a Lutcher bar where people had gathered following the traditional lighting of bonfires along the Mississippi River to usher in Christmas.
“When I was walking out of Mass, I did learn the details Thaddeus was one of the ones that was involved in that incident. I gathered information throughout the early morning of Christmas morning at just about the time it had gotten out that he was one of the ones that had passed away in that incident,” Jenkins said.
Watis, 20, was a member of the Lutcher Bulldogs’ back-to-back state championship teams in 2015 and 2016. He was home for the holidays after concluding his first semester as a football player at Arkansas Baptist – a two-year school in Little Rock.
Watis was one of two victims shot to death during the incident. Two other males, including a 15-year-old, were taken to the hospital with wounds and are in guarded condition, according to the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Department.
Those who knew Watis took the news hard.
“I’m still heartbroken on this one,” said Tim Detillier, who coached Watis through his junior year in high school.
“He was always a good kid and will always hold a special place in my heart. My heart goes out to his mom and dad. I know they feel the pain,” said Sully Laiche, now an All-American defensive tackle for the Nicholls Colonels, who was a teammate of Watis through Laiche’s senior season in 2015.
Watis, his coaches agree, did things the right way when at Lutcher.
“When something like this happens, you always hear, ‘he was a good kid.’ Truly, he was a good kid,” Detillier said. “He was a very quiet kid. He was very polite.
“On the football field, you never had a problem with him in the weight room. He was always wanting to get better – bigger, faster, stronger. He wanted to be the best.”
“He was always real positive. He had a great smile. He was the somebody teammates really enjoyed being around,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins inherited a state championship team in 2016 and Watis was one of numerous returning starters. The Lutcher coach, who named Watis as one of the team’s captains, switched the senior defender from defensive line to linebacker.
“That was one of the things I changed a little bit in my time there is I’ve gotten away from it being all the seniors being on the team being able to serve as captain, and went to guys who maybe had things we were looking for – doing things the right way, being unselfish, and putting the team first,” Jenkins said. “That first year, Thaddeus was one of those captains.
“He was one of the guys we really leaned on that year in trying to be the first team to go back-to-back (as state champions). For Thaddeus, it was his work ethic and the way he went about his business on a daily basis.”
While a gifted athlete possessing a strong work ethic, school wasn’t easy for Watis.
“When I got there, he was a little behind in school and he had to work a little harder to get that taken care of,” Jenkins recalled. “Because of that, he graduated a semester after everyone else, so he had to come back to school in the fall. That’s something you don’t see a lot of kids do is come back to school after his class graduated. He was able to come back and finish his school and the following spring he went to work. He got a job and saved up his money and he wanted to go school and have an opportunity to continue to play.”
A determined Watis ended up as a student athlete at Arkansas Baptist.
“He ended up with an opportunity at Arkansas Baptist, which is a two-year school. He just finished his first semester of school and playing college football. He was putting himself in a position to better his life and continue with his education and finish his dream of playing college football,” said Jenkins.
Like at Lutcher, Watis went through a position change, this time to defensive back.
“We kind of knew that as the recruiting process following his senior year,” Jenkins said of Watis’ position switch. “As his senior year played out, he was such a good athlete for a kid that was 195, 200 pounds. He ran track and had great speed. College coaches saw him as transitioning to a strong safety-type position. That’s what we thought he was going to move to on the college level.
“I always thought that no matter where Thaddeus would end up, he would be an everyday special teams guy that would be on all your coverage units and give you great effort and then develop into a starter in a strong safety-type role.”
Jenkins’ wish, the Lutcher coach said, is that the circumstances surrounding Wathis’ untimely death, may serve as a vehicle for change in what has become too often a violent society.
“There are a lot of things that are still be investigated with Thaddeus and this incident that took place but you would hope that Thaddeus’ death would help to spark some change in the community to maybe get people to take a step back and help stem the violence that has been taking place,” Jenkins said. “This has been an overriding theme that’s kind of hit communities across the country and Lutcher and St. James Parish are no different. Things have gotten to the point where it’s escalated where respect for life isn’t there in a lot of places. Things that used to be settled in different ways, unfortunately, now it results in this way.
“You would have that as a community and as a River Parish region, regardless of what the circumstances were around Thaddeus’ death that his death helps lead to some change in the community and helps stem some of the violence that we are seeing.”