Moving the Chains … with Illinois State cornerback Deandre Lamont

Illinois State cornerback poses with a photo of his great aunt, who helped raise him in the Houston area. (Photo courtesy of Deandre Lamont)

By Barry Bottino

Deandre Lamont’s first look at Illinois State left him impressed. It was the 2019 FCS playoffs, when Redbirds’ star James Robinson ran for 210 yards and the ISU defense held Central Arkansas’ high-powered offense to only 14 points.

“I liked how their defense ran, especially in the secondary,” said Lamont, who had four tackles that day as a UCA sophomore cornerback. “There were a lot of guys in the secondary making plays.”

This fall, Lamont has switched colors and is now a key member of the ISU secondary.

Lamont spent his summers growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation off the coast of Venezuela, where his family has roots. He can still recite his favorite meals and snacks from his time in the Caribbean.

Lamont has his own clothing brand and misses living in Baytown, Texas near Houston, but he has adjusted quickly to life in Bloomington-Normal … despite the colder climate.

Get to know more about Deandre Lamont in our Prairie State Pigskin Moving the Chains Q&A.

After playing 37 career games at Central Arkansas, what appealed to you about transferring to Illinois State?

I wanted to go to the right fit for me, the right defense and a school with a history of winning. When I was at UCA, we played Illinois State in 2019 in the (FCS) playoffs. I was familiar with their defense and how they performed against us.

When I came here on my visit, I saw the blueprint of what they had and felt like it was the right place.

When you committed to Illinois State, you shared an image on social media of you holding up a photo of a late relative. Who is that person?

My family is from Trinidad and Tobago, and that is my great aunt, Joycelyn Laborde. She’s the twin sister of my grandmother on my mom’s side. She raised me, so I ended up calling her grandma. She was the one who always took care of me. She would always tell me a story about how when I was a baby, I was so sick, and I wasn’t eating anything.

Deandre Lamont

She didn’t know what was going on. All she knew to do was to hold me and just try to figure out what was wrong. Eventually, I got better.

She was my grandma here (in the U.S.). She was an example of what I’d want my wife to be. She passed back in August during fall camp.

She was born in Trinidad and Tobago, then they moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, then from there she moved to New York with her husband, who passed when I was in high school.

They took me and my mom in. It was a house full of boys. It was me, my little brother and four of my cousins. We were raised by women but there were a lot of boys.

What else do you recall about your upbringing?

My mom was a single mom. We used to live on the north side of Houston, then we moved to Baytown, and I stayed with a friend of hers for a year or two. We finally moved in with her aunt and uncle and that’s who we lived with until freshman year in high school.

I was born in Houston and raised in Baytown.

What was the most memorable part of being raised by your great aunt?

It was how she ran the household. She made sure we were always respectful and made sure we were treating people right and being great young men. She made sure we always cleaned things up and didn’t leave anything dirty. If you used some dishes, you better make sure you washed those dishes. If there’s some trash and it’s not yours, you still cleaned it up. There was some discipline around the house.

Your Twitter bio includes the Trinidad and Tobago flag. Tell us about your family’s roots there.

Growing up, every summer, that’s where I was at. Every holiday, we were there. My mom works at the airport, for United. I’ve been flying for free my whole life. Every break we got from school, we were in Trinidad.

My grandmother lives there, so she would take care of us over the summer, along with my two aunts who are there.

How would you describe Trinidad and Tobago?

Marac Beach in Trinidad.

It’s a beautiful place. The food is amazing. The people there are great. I haven’t been there since I started high school football since you have summer workouts. I miss it so much. I miss the freedom. I used to go outside and play with my friends. I’d lose track of time and not come home until 9 o’clock at night. I’d play soccer, cricket. We had a river behind our house, so we would run around by the river. I was outside being active. We did a lot of things in nature.

What are the foods that you miss from growing up there?

There’s a (round flatbread) called roti. I eat it a lot now. In Houston, there are a lot of Caribbean people, so it’s easy to find places to get the food. I just miss my aunt cooking.

You use the roti to eat things like curried chicken, peas and potatoes. You have stewed chicken and rice. There’s a thing called pilau, which is like a dirty rice.

There are these things called doubles (which are two pieces of flatbread with curried chickpeas and various chutneys). It looks like a taco. You can get them spicy. We would eat those in the morning. There was a doubles stand right down the street.

We had (a snack called) mango chow. You use onions, peppers, cut-up mango, pepper, salt. It’s good. I miss the snacks from the islands.

Do you have a favorite athlete from Trinidad and Tobago?

The one I used to pay the most attention to was Brian Lara, who was a cricket player. When you go to the airport, you’d see his picture. There was a phone company, and he was on advertisements for it.

I can’t forget (track star) Ato Bolden. (He won four Olympic medals and now is a TV analyst for track and field broadcasts.)

You are a track and field fan. Who are your favorites to watch?

Growing up, I used to love watching (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt. I love (retired American sprinter) Allyson Felix. Nowadays, I like (U.S. sprinters) Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton. I like ‘The Flamingo’ (aka American hurdler and sprinter Grant Holloway).

There’s a lot of them.

I can’t forget to mention my two best track friends from high school, Julien Gillum and Tristan Lavan. They’re both doing big things right now. Julien goes to Iowa and Tristan is at Arkansas. I’m a big fan of them, too.

What track events did you run in high school?

I ran in the 200 (yard dash), 4×400 (relay) and the 400. I played all sports, so it was hard to maneuver through all that. My freshman year, I ran track. In my sophomore year, my quarterback coach became the head track coach. He was big on track. I was running and on varsity for basketball. I just didn’t like track practice. (Laughs) I kept quitting and going back to basketball. I almost got kicked off the basketball team because (the coach) didn’t like my attitude. I was like, ‘I don’t ride the bench.’ I went back to football and ran track.

I started to take track really seriously and we went to regionals my junior year. In my senior year, we got the school record for the 4×400. I want to say it was 3:15. Other than football, track gave me some of the best high school memories.

How did you get involved in football?

I started playing in the front yard with my cousins and the neighbors. I got into Optimist Football (a local youth program) in fourth grade because my cousin was playing.

I had been playing basketball since the second grade. Basketball was my first love.

The first year, I was a cornerback. That’s crazy because I’m a corner now. I didn’t really do anything until the Super Bowl game of that season, when I got a pick. That was the biggest play I made that year.

The next year I signed up for the same team and I showed up in a Puma (sportswear) outfit. I was running fast, and they gave me the nickname Puma. I was known around Baytown as Puma. I still have some friends and friends’ parents that still call me that. The coaches from that team, when they see me, they still call me Puma.

The next two years, I played running back. When I got to high school, I started to play running back but they needed a quarterback. I played quarterback, receiver, running back and DB.

You have a fashion line called Believe the Hype. How did it start?

Deandre Lamont’s Believe the Hype Streetwear brand recently launched socks for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Photo courtesy of Deandre Lamont)

There’s a store in Arkansas called NWA Hype (in Fayetteville). They were selling stuff at wholesale prices. (The owner) said I could buy 10 items and get a certain price. I met him and got 10 things. When I got back to Conway (where UCA is located), I posted on Snapchat to see if anybody was going to buy.

It all sold pretty quick, so I went back and got more. Eventually, I just kept doing that and I was known at UCA as the guy who was selling the hype streetwear. When Homecoming was coming around, people would say, “I need something. I need a fit.”

I always wanted to have my own brand too. For me, (Believe the Hype) is about me being underrecruited in high school. If you believe the hype about yourself, you have confidence that you can play, and don’t let anybody tell you anything other than that. That’s not just in football. In life in general, just always have confidence and don’t let anybody else determine how good you are at something.

You’ve worn purple at Central Arkansas and now red at Illinois State. What’s your favorite color?

My favorite colors are orange and blue. But when it comes to football, I like the red. I wore red in high school, and I always liked how I looked in red. When I came here and saw myself in the red uniform again, it gave me flashbacks to high school.

Who has the best and worst fashion sense on the team?

I’m going to be humble and not say myself. (Laughs) If I had to choose, I’d say (wide receiver) Jabari Khepera. He reminds me of my fashion. He puts different things together. Some people try too hard, and you can tell. With Jabari, you can tell he’s not trying too hard, and it’s put together well.

The worst? I’m going to say everybody knows how to dress.

What do you miss most about Texas?

For one, it’s not as cold. I miss being around my family and my friends that I grew up with. I miss the food. We had an argument with (two teammates) from Chicago. Some of us from the South had an argument about who’s got the best food.

They said Chicago’s got better food than the South, but that’s a lie. (Laughs)

I miss the big-city life, just being able to get out and do so many different activities. I had adapted to living in Arkansas, so I’ve adapted here quickly.

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