Nate Godwin began Sept. 10, 2010 like any other morning, walking down the hall to his grandmother’s room to greet her before heading off to school.
However when he went to wake her that Friday, what he found shattered his world: her fight with lung cancer had come to an end.
“I was talking to her the day before and the cancer was going well,” Godwin said. “She was going through chemo and she had lost her hair and things like that, but they were saying she was good. They thought she had a good chance.”
Godwin tried to wake his grandmother that Friday morning, but she remained still in her bed.
“I was the first person to find her, so I think that was the roughest part was having to deal with that and going to school,” he said.
With his world falling apart around him, Godwin called his high school football coach and his uncle, Ken Capers, to tell them of the news. Within the hour, both men were by his side.
Though she had battled breast cancer before eventually beating the disease, Faye Godwin wasn’t as fortunate in her fight against lung cancer.
His coach told him he didn’t have to play that night, but Godwin said he was going to suit up because that’s what his grandma would want him to do.
Now a senior safety at USF, Godwin honors his grandmother on the field each Saturday, but especially for the Bulls’ Breast Cancer Awareness game, which took place last Saturday. The team dons uniforms with pink highlights each year.
Last Saturday against UConn, Godwin posted a picture of his pink uniform laid out in his locker with the caption “RIP Grandma Faye Godwin.”
Growing up, Godwin didn’t have the parental support most kids have.
With his father out of his life at a young age and his mother dealing with health issues, his grandma raised him and took care of him primarily by herself.
Despite her fight with two separate types of cancer, she didn’t let anything get in the way of taking care of her pride and joy.
From cooking and cleaning, to consoling him after a tough game, his grandma did everything in her power to see that Godwin had what he needed.
“His grandmother loved Nate more than the world,” Capers said. “She spoiled him, picked up everything, cooked for him and brought his food to his room. Nate was her world and of course, he gave that back to her. He loved his grandma, so he took her death hard.”
While his grandmother had nothing but love for him, Godwin said he remembers she wasn’t shy on discipline.
One night when he was 7, he snuck out past his curfew to ride bikes with his friends in a nearby park, but it wasn’t long before he was stopped in his tracks by the voice of his grandma calling out for him.
“She was sleeping when I snuck out to the park with my friends and it was like two blocks down,” Godwin said. “Well she woke up and grabbed a belt, had no shoes on, and walked two blocks to the park. I look and see her and she’s screaming ‘Nathan, Nathan, what are you doing?’ I remember she beat me and grounded me.
“When it happened, I was like ‘Dang, that sucks.’ But now I look back and it’s one of those funny moments. The fact that she didn’t bother to put shoes on shows how protective she was of me.”
When Godwin played youth football as a running back, his grandma was his biggest cheerleader, always on the sideline letting the world know whose grandmother was.
Win or lose, Godwin’s grandmother had nothing but praise for her grandson. Even after a tough game, Godwin said she always thought he was the best player on the field.
“I’d be running for a touchdown and she’d be right along the fence, screaming, going crazy,” Godwin said. “She always had a little blow horn and stuff like that.
“She was one of those who didn’t care what people thought, she loved me. She was proud of me and she didn’t care what people thought, she was going to take care of me and love me.”
She would tell anyone who would listen how good her grandson was at football and that he would one day play college football and maybe even the NFL.
Though she didn’t live to see him graduate high school, keeping her dreams alive with his play on the field is something Godwin cares about deeply.
He thinks about her often and tries to honor her on the field, but when Godwin took the field the night of his grandma’s passing, playing without her on the sidelines was harder than he could have imagined.
“It was terrible, to be honest,” Godwin said. “I went out there and I remember — I’m usually hyped before the game — but I wasn’t talking to anyone,” Godwin said. “I went out there and missed a couple tackles.
“At one point, I broke down crying on the field. It was rough. I couldn’t play and nothing was going right, I felt like a part of me was gone. When it first happened, I cried, but it didn’t really hit me until I was out on the field. It hit me hard that I was playing out there and she wasn’t there.”
Godwin found it too difficult to continue living in his grandma’s house, with the constant reminders of her engulfing him on a daily basis.
After roughly six months of enduring the pain of walking past her empty room each morning on the way to school and looking at all the old pictures she had hung up of him around the house, he moved in with Capers and his family.
“Nate needed male guidance and he always looked up to me,” Capers said. “I loved him like my own son, so it was a natural transition. It wasn’t strange, it wasn’t anything to think about. It was just what was supposed to happen.”
With Godwin’s life in disarray, Capers did his best to fill the role Godwin’s grandmother left when she passed — essentially becoming the father he never had.
“(My uncle) was like my Dad, I remember he bought me my first car,” Godwin said. “He pays my phone bill, he does anything for me. Back in high school, he would help me out with back-to-school shopping: clothes, books, whatever. He’s always been there.
“When I played high school football and needed cleats — whatever I needed, he’s always there. It’s like he’s the ‘yes man.’ He doesn’t say ‘no’ to a lot and he’s always trying. At first I didn’t understand why, you know it was like I’m not really your son why is this guy taking care of me? But I’ve never questioned him on that, I’ve just respected him and been thankful for what he does.”
The two grew closer than ever before, with Capers taking on the responsibility of getting him to school and practice and ensuring he never had to worry about anything.
Capers has two daughters of his own, but he said it’s hard sometimes to take a step back and remember Godwin is his nephew.
“Nate comes to me for everything; I raised him like my own son,” Capers said. “I see no difference. I have to make myself tell people he’s my nephew, the word ‘son’ just automatically starts to come out.
“When I would go to his high school games, everyone would just assume I’m his dad and that’s the only way I’ve ever looked at him.”
After starring for Freedom High School, Godwin committed to Minnesota before eventually choosing to stay home and play at USF, near his family.
Entering his fourth year as a starter at USF, he hopes to leave with a conference championship, especially after the Bulls went 6-18 in his first two seasons.
This season, Godwin is one of six defensive players to have played in each of USF’s seven games and is fifth on the team with 33 total tackles.
He prays about his grandma before every game and even sports a tattoo of two hands clasped together in prayer with her name — Faye Godwin — written underneath.
The tattoo was Godwin’s first of many and one that Capers had no issue with him getting, even while he was in high school.
With his family still close by, his mother and uncle come to watch his home games, but there’s always someone missing from the picture each time Godwin looks up to the stands at Raymond James Stadium.
“I remember her smile,” Godwin said. “Every time I think about my grandma, I just picture her running down the sideline at games. That always comes back to me.
“That smile and her attitude — it was tough losing her, but now that I look back, I think it made me stronger because I know she’s still with me and I play for her.”