Stock’s Up on Dartmouth Lineman Stockman

  • Dartmouth College defensive tackle Davaron Stockman exults in his team's 22-21 defeat of visiting New Hampshire on Sept. 17 at Memorial Field.

  • Dartmouth College's Davaron Stockman, right, stands alongside coach Duane Brooks during one of the defensive tackle's first practices in 2014. Brooks' counsel has helped keep Stockman at Dartmouth.

  • Dartmouth College defensive lineman Davaron Stockman, left, battles a teammate during an Oct. 14, 2015 practice.

  • Dartmouth College junior Davaron Stockman

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 01, 2016

Hanover — Davaron Stockman arrived at Dartmouth College two years ago carrying 50 pounds of excess weight. It was emotional ballast, however, that affected him most.

Stockman, a 6-foot-1 defensive tackle for the Big Green football team, had lost his mother to a heart attack fewer than two years before. Three months before that, his family was flooded out of its home in Laplace, La., a town 40 miles northwest of New Orleans and sandwiched between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain. Stockman had waded through chest-deep water with his grandmother on his back and his mother clinging to his shoulder.

Now, 1,600 miles from familiarity and desperately homesick, he was trying to tackle ball carriers and rigorous academics amid more-affluent peers. It literally bowed his back, as anyone who watched him shuffle dejectedly around campus could readily discern.

“My family was all I knew, and the longest I’d ever been away from them was to Atlanta for five days,” Stockman said. “But I knew if I left (Dartmouth), I’d just be another kid in my town who’d given up and come back. I would have disappointed so many people.”

Stockman was the only child of his mother, Dana Stockman, who was 48 when she died. She and his father, Demetre Campbell, never married, but Davaron said the two talked frequently and he would see his father a few times a month growing up. Born across the Mississippi in Egard, the boy and his mother moved to Laplace when he was 4, living with Dana’s twin sisters and their mother, Eloise. A younger cousin was soon born, and the family’s four-bedroom house was packed with people and energy.

“It was a place where we would dance, we would sing,” Davaron Stockman said, recalling its soundtrack of rhythm and blues music. “It was a place in which I felt loved, and me and my cousin, we were the entertainment of the family. We were the babies.”

Campbell said the the area in which his son lived “ain’t all that great, but he dealt with it and he never got in no trouble. Nobody would mess with him.”

That didn’t mean Stockman escaped unscathed. 

He recalls being robbed at gunpoint at 12. As a senior at East St. John High, he saw a freshman shot to death near a house-party graduation celebration. 

“We were walking down the street, and a car went flying by me and stopped four or five houses down,” Stockman said. “I seen a kid run up to the car and back up all of a sudden with his hands up. Three to five shots rang out and he fell on the ground in front of a house. 

“We went up to him and seen that he wasn’t blinking or moving.”

By that time, Stockman had already dealt with disaster and tragedy.

In August of 2012, rains from Hurricane Isaac prompted flooding that overtook his neighborhood within a couple of hours. Water crept up the family’s driveway, onto the front porch and inside the house as its residents placed what they could in the attic and on high shelves. 

Afraid they’d be stranded on the roof or worse, the family waded several blocks to higher ground. One of Davaron’s aunts carried her 1-year-old child, while he surged through the water carrying his grandmother, mother and a few bags of belongings. Partway to visible land, the five were accosted by a swimming armadillo. It was a frightening and surreal scene, followed by stays with a nearby cousin, a great uncle in Baton Rouge and a friend of his mother’s. 

For a time, Stockman slept on a heavy-duty air mattress at the home of his football coach, Phillip Banko. Regular ones popped under his 300-pound frame.

“He’s been through more adversity than any player I’ve coached,” Banko told the New Orleans Times-Picayune a year later. “There’s nothing I’m going to tell him that’s going to ease his mind and heart. He could have easily taken a turn for the worse.”

The worst time of that stretch came when Dana, a clerical worker for the state, collapsed and died at her job on Nov. 15, 2012. She was the fifth of her mother’s seven children to succumb to a heart attack, and her passing devastated her son.

“She was about to head to lunch break, and her coworkers said she was complaining about her chest,” Stockman said. “Knowing her, she was trying to be strong and make it through the day.

“My best friend, my everything, was gone. I remember going three or four days not talking to anyone because I needed time to cope with it and really understand it.”

Part of Dana Stockman’s legacy is the focus on academics she instilled in her son. Already bright, his classroom work ethic brought about recruitment from Georgetown, Brown and Dartmouth, along with plenty of interest from Louisiana schools at a similar football level. When it became apparent that Stockman’s height was deterring the likes of Tulane from offering him a scholarship, he narrowed the field to the two Ivy League programs interested in him.

Dartmouth’s campus and the reception Stockman received on it during a midwinter visit sold him on the college. As frightening as it was to commit to such a change in lifestyle, the youngster knew he couldn’t pass it up.

Big Green coach Buddy Teevens also made a positive impression during a home recruiting visit. Stockman’s 2-year-old cousin started the session sitting with a family member but moved into the coach’s lap partway through.

“It was a defining moment because he sensed that Coach T was a sincere person,” Stockman said. “He was offering me an opportunity to change my life and my family’s lives. Even my future wife and kids’ lives. I wouldn’t have gotten the same education at some of the schools back home. 

“The culture here is different, but I know in my heart that 10, 20, 30 years from now, I’ll feel I made the right decision.”

That logical realization only helped a little bit. Stressed by his approaching departure, Stockman ate his way through the spring and summer before his matriculation and arrived in Hanover significantly overweight for the start of preseason practice. Surrounded by older, fitter and more-worldly players, he struggled to adapt on the field and in school. He kept to himself, moving from his single dormitory room to classrooms to the dining hall and the football facilities with his gaze firmly on the sidewalk.

“As far as talking to other ethnicities, I didn’t know how,” he said. “I figured they saw me as a big black kid with tattoos and wasn’t sure if they’d accept me. I’d just walk past them unless I knew them from the dorm, and even then we’d just say hey.”

Said Teevens: “For some of our kids, when they get here, it’s like they’ve landed on Mars.”

Defensive line coach Duane Brooks didn’t recruit Stockman, joining the staff shortly thereafter, but he’s been crucial to No. 91’s development. Generally acerbic and unafraid to bruise egos on the practice field, Brooks has taken a different approach with the player Teevens nicknamed “Diesel” during his recruitment.

“I treat him with kid gloves,” Brooks said. “You shouldn’t beat a man who’s already down; you should try and lift him up. He’s very open and emotional, and he’s far away from all the people he loves.”

After earning only a few varsity snaps during his first two seasons, Stockman played about a dozen against New Hampshire during this season’s opener. He also got into the fray against Holy Cross, and when starter Zach Husain was hurt Friday against Pennsylvania, Stockman received a bevy of playing time.

Brooks praises his protégée for substantial and continued improvement, but has to sometimes remind him that he’s a run-stuffer first and foremost.

“He just needs to play straight ahead and in a 4-yard box,” the coach said. “He wants to do more, because in his mind he’s 255 pounds and he can rush off the edge. He has so much potential, but he also has days where he gets down and doesn’t think he should be here and he has to pull himself out of that rut.”

Brooks said that while Stockman managed only a 1.7 grade-point average his first semester, he’s raised it to a 3.3 and recently conquered a demanding physics course. Teevens is proud of the 20-year-old’s discipline in losing weight and adding muscle, noting with a laugh that when Stockman went home after last season, his grandmother burst into tears over how “skinny” her baby had become.

As he’s become more comfortable at Dartmouth, Stockman’s natural personality has shone through.

He’s one of the team’s best dancers and showed off his moves in a “Running Man” video clip during spring practice. Funny and ebullient, he’s no longer subdued but part of the back-and-forth chatter that connects teammates during practices and workouts. Those who know Stockman’s story revel in how he’s left his shell behind.

“He’s a stout, strong guy with a good first step,” Teevens said. “He can collapse the pocket with a bull rush, and he causes congestion in front of the quarterback. I can’t wait until he gets his first sack.”

Neither can Diesel, although he wishes his mother could be there to see it. His family watches Dartmouth games online back home, and his father plans to attend the homecoming game against Harvard later this month, but there will always be a sense of loss. Dana Stockman’s picture and her birth date are tattooed on Davaron’s shoulder, traveling with him wherever he goes.

“My mama made a difference in this world, and she was special,” her son said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just let what she instilled in me go away.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.