Plaquemine High ranks #1 in state, top 20 nationally with four players under NFL contract for 2024 season

by: William Weathers // Contributor

Former LSU defensive lineman Davon Godchaux was a highly touted prospect that remained close to his roots in Plaquemine and has since launched an NFL career that’s headed into its eighth season.

What’s transpired after Godchaux’s path to professional football began in 2017 has been three more former Plaquemine High Green Devils – offensive guard Kevin Dotson, safety Percy Butler and wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks – that have helped put their small Iberville Parish town on the NFL map.

Not only did the Plaquemine High quartet, which all started for their respective NFL teams in 2023 and are under contract for the ’24 season, help Louisiana rank second nationally in players per capita (1 per 72,777 people) on NFL rosters, but placed Plaquemine High in a tie for 18th nationally among high schools with four players on current NFL rosters.

“It was a group effort with a great support system,” said Paul Distefano, Plaquemine High’s former head coach (2012-21) when all four of the aforementioned players were part of the school’s program. “Great assistant coaches as far as player development in the offseason and the workout program.

“Statistically it’s not something you think would happen,” Distefano said. “I credit the whole school system during that time span. The administration at Plaquemine High was awesome. It was as good as it could get disciplinary wise, education wise.”

Georgia (1 per 71,413 people) was the No. 1 state to produce that produced 64 players on NFL rosters for the ’23 season followed by Louisiana with 64 players and Alabama with 60 (1 per 83,738 people).

Among cities that produced the most NFL players a year ago was Detroit, Mich. with 19 followed by Bradenton, Fla. with 17 and Houston with 16.

New Orleans tied for 10th with 10.

A total of 45 states, Washington D.C. and three countries were represented on NFL rosters where 1,716 players began the ’23 season.

The state of Florida had the top three producing high schools for NFL talent with IMG Academy of Bradenton (14), American Heritage of Plantation (11) and St. Thomas Aquinas of Ft. Lauderdale (8).

Plaquemine, with a population of 5,687 that was far less than some of metropolitan areas it competed against, was among 18 high schools with four players on NFL rosters a year ago.

“I’d like to the share the credit to everyone who put a hand on these kids,” Distefano. “It’s a phenomenal thing.”

Distefano went back to the infancy stages for many football players in Plaquemine who rose through the ranks of the Renegades’ youth program before reaching Plaquemine High School.

Talent was never an issue at Plaquemine High which had produced Brian Mitchell, who signed with UL-Lafayette as a quarterback before spending 13 years in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants (1990-’03).

He’s still considered one of the league’s best all-time kick returners whose credentials have warranted greater scrutiny by NFL Hall of Fame voters.

Defensive tackle/defensive end Jim Boudreaux is credited with being the first player from Plaquemine High to play in the NFL, enjoying a three-year career (1966-68) with the Boston Patriots.

Distefano said Plaquemine High had more than 30 players sign Division I scholarships over a nine-year span.

Plaquemine reached the state playoffs in Class 4A every season under Distefano and against the likes of 4A staples such as Karr, Warren Easton and Landy-Walker advanced to four state quarterfinals and one semifinal.

Distefano said a program highlight came when LSU hosted Louisiana Tech in a non-conference game on Sept. 22, 2018.

There were four of his former players – defensive lineman Nelson Jenkins and defensive back Todd Harris of LSU – and wide receiver Wayne Toussant and offensive lineman Abraham Delfin for La. Tech – battling in a 38-21 game won by the Tigers.

“It was a phenomenal night for me,” he said. “I just thought that was awesome.”

Such an encounter of former Plaquemine High football players on a Division I stage was a testament to that era of the Green Devils’ program.

Distefano annually loaded up his schedule that featured such non-district challenges against Brother Martin, St. Thomas More  and St. Augustine to prepare to his teams to excel in district competition and make deep runs in the postseason.

“It was a way to get these kids exposure,” he said.

The byproduct of the team’s success was annual visits from college coaches that numbered between 30-40 wanting to get a look at Godchaux and Dotson which ultimately led to the same schools returning on an annual basis where they discovered Butler and Wicks.

“You want to see Todd Harris, you’re going to see these four or five other kids that I had,” Distefano said. “If you’re coming to see Wayne and Nelson, you’re going to see Percy. You were going to see Michael Sproles (signed with Southeastern Louisiana), Codi Willis (signed with Nicholls State) and Andre Riley (who signed with UL-Lafayette along with Butler).

“I have to give props to the entire program,” Distefano said. “There were other kids that were recruited that didn’t make it. They contributed to the success of the ones that did.”

Davon Godchaux

After starting for three years at LSU, the 6-foot-3, 330-pound Godchaux opted for the NFL Draft was a fifth-round selection (No. 178 overall) of the Miami Dolphis in ’17.

Godchaux had a career-best 75 tackles and two sacks in ’19 for the Dolphins but was acquired after four seasons as an unrestricted free agent by New England. He registered 56 tackles in 17 games for the Patriots last season.

Godchaux, in the second year of contract worth $16 million, has started in 92 of 103 career games with 362 tackles and 5 ½ sacks.

Distefano also applauded the philanthropic efforts of Godchaux in his hometown through his ‘Chauxdown Foundation’ which sponsors a football clinic each June at Plaquemine High.

“He’s given a lot of stuff,” Distefano said of Godchaux. “It’s (camp) more about the experience and exposure and having fun and being around those caliber of players. My assistants and other high school coaches would participate in it.”

Kevin Dotson

Dotson, whose father Kelcy played collegiately at UL-Lafayette, was the state’s fourth-ranked offensive guard when he signed with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Dotson rose to prominence, becoming the second player in school history (the other being Orlando Thomas) to earn first team Associated Press All-America honors. He was also a first-team All-America choice by USA Today, Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Focus.

The two-time All-Sun Belt Conference first team guard, one the nation’s highest graded guards in his 14 starts his final season, was drafted in the fourth round (No. 135 overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in ’20.

The 6-4, 321 pounder spent his first three years in the NFL with the Steelers, starting nine games in his second season before being placed on injured reserve.

Dotson, who played a total of 1,160 snaps in three seasons, was traded last Aug 23 to the Los Angeles Rams where he became a starter by the fourth week of the season.

Dotson was named second team All-Pro by Pro Football Focus after playing 882 snaps in 14 starts and was just penalized twice. He was rewarded in March with a new contract worth $48 million, including $32 million guaranteed.

“I think the college scouts underestimated his strength,” Distefano said. “He developed as a guard in college, and it translated into the NFL. His dad was a Steelers’ fanatic, and it was a storybook draft with him going to the Steelers. For some reason he was a better fit for the Rams and was traded and then he just signed a massive contract. He’s set for life.”

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) celebrates scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Chicago Bears during their football game Sunday, January 7, 2024, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

Percy Butler, Dontayvious Wicks

The 6-foot, 191-pound Butler and Wicks, a 6-1, 206-pounder are prime examples of a pair of lightly recruited players that blossomed in college to reach NFL rosters where they both signed contracts worth in excess of $4 million.

Butler, a former two-star recruit, became a starter at UL-Lafayette and finished his career with 169 tackles, including nine stops for 9 stops for minus-26 yards, three interceptions, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

Butler, who had a career-best 61 tackles with 6 TFLs and 5 pass defended as a senior, was selected in the fourth round (No. 113 overall) in the ’22 draft by Washington. In his second season with the Commanders, he improved his total tackles from 10 during his rookie year to 56. He also had eight passes defended.

“He was such a good athlete and aggressive player,” Distefano said.

Wicks, whose cousin D’Morea Wicks was a quarterback at Plaquemine that signed with the Air Force Academy, played quarterback and wide receiver with the Green Devils.

He had a scholarship offer from Nicholls State when Virginia, which had a commitment from University High running back Michael Hollins, made a late push with a visit to Plaquemine High and picked up Wicks’ pledge.

Following two mundane seasons at Virginia where an injury wiped out the ’20 season, Wicks caught 57 passes for a school-record 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, earning first team All-ACC accolades.

Wicks followed with 30 receptions for 430 yards and 2 TDs in eight games. He started in 19 of 30 games with 90 grabs for 1,694 yards (12th on school’s career list), 12 TDs and a per-catch average of 18.8 yards.

“Going to Virginia was a great opportunity for him and he made the most of it,” Distefano said.

Wicks, who played in the Senior Bowl, was a fifth-round draft choice of Green Bay in ’23 (No. 159 overall) where he caught 39 passes for 581 yards (14.9 yards per catch) and four TDs.

“It’s a phenomenal thing,” Distefano said. “Just the odds of having an opportunity to play in the NFL. They were all active in the NFL last year and played major roles on their teams and I hope it continues.”