The camera would then pan down to the floor.
It would find a one-year-old hand and five fingers. Snaking below the bathroom door.
That hand was there to provide comfort.
His mother, Neketta Dean, knows that story better than anyone. She lived it.
“I just remember going through a phase in my life prior to my divorce,” she said. “Because when I divorced Nakobe was only one year old. I can remember being in the bathroom on the other side of the door. The door was closed because I didn’t want [her children] to see me cry.”
“I just remember him reaching his hand under the door to just touch me. You know? He would stay on the other side of that door and not move and would literally fall asleep on the other side of the door and did not leave me. He just stayed there.”
“And he was just a year old. Almost two. But he knew that his mom was not happy.”
Dean’s father is a physician. Nakobe also plans to attend medical school one day, but that moment came at a time in his life when his parents were going through their divorce.
“It was just a bad time for me with depression and going through that divorce and I never wanted them to see me cry,” Neketta Dean said.
Neketta basically describes him as a “tough teddy bear” at a very young age. He would do that a lot.
“He was like my little protector in his own kind of way,” she said.
They would call themselves “Team Dean” then. They felt very much alone. Nakobe would tell her he was going to invent something to make their lives better.
“He’s given me several of those moments,” she said.
5-star? Top prospect? To his mother, he is simply “Ko-Bear” or “Baba.” (Neketta Dean/Special)
She doesn’t call him “Nakobe” or “Kobe.”
Nakobe is her “Baba.” Why that name? Well, her son was not always a sculpted 220 pounds.
“He was chubby for an extremely long time,” Neketta Dean said. “That was all the way up to the sixth grade. He was chubby like a little bear. We used to call him ‘Ko-Bear’ and everybody started calling him ‘Ko-Bear’ and I would say you know ‘Ko-Bear you are Mommy’s little Baba.’ … So now I just call him ‘Baba.'”
That is the real Nakobe Dean that the finalists (Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M) hope to sign when he makes his decision on Dec. 19.
If anyone was to call him a “Mama’s Boy” to his face, he’d love it.
It does mean more to him than any 5-star tag and label as the nation’s No. 1 ILB label.
“She is definitely stronger than me,” Nakobde Dean said. “I don’t think I could have gone through some of the real struggles she has gone through in her life.”
His parents met while they were both in the military. The discipline that Nakobe applies to his academic coursework is a reflection of the time they both spent serving our country.
Neketta was the Salutatorian of her class when she was in high school. When her son made the National Honor Society, she pulled out her certificate. It now hangs up next to his.
“I told him that ‘just so you know you get that from your momma’ when he looks at that,” she said.
What does this school choice look like for Nakobe Dean?
Horn Lakes High is in Mississippi. But it is really a suburb of Memphis.
Neketta Dean has been thinking about moving for a while now. It would not be surprising to see her follow Nakobe and move closer to where he decides to attend school.
“She has been wanting to move since my freshman year,” Dean said. “I don’t know if she is going to move after I graduate or if she is going to wait until my sister graduates. But she will move somewhere. I do feel that wherever I choose that she will try to pick an area close to there.”
Nakobe Dean took his first official visit to Alabama. He was at Auburn last weekend. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
She thinks of her “Baba” and his many gifts. In her mind, it would be a disservice to him not to use those “blessings from God” to their full potential.
She thinks of degrees. Her dream for her son is to see him max out the intelligence and logic and vast potential inside his mind.
Not just to shed guards and stuff the tailback on 3rd-and-3 for the next 12 years.
When she looks at schools, she thinks of the way most would view the perfect spouse.
The right smile. A certain attitude. The way that person dresses. A certain sense of humor and a voice.
“There’s no program that has anything that is like super phenomenal that stands out from all the others,” she said. “There are certain attributes about all of them that do seem attractive.”
She admits she first wanted him to just go to Stanford.
“But what he really wants is a great education and to play good football,” she said. “That’s his combination.”
There are things she likes about LSU. She loves the academic program there. But she does not favor the city and the living environment around that campus.
It can happen anywhere, but she brought up an incident where an Uber driver held up two kids at gunpoint while they were on campus.
Alabama and Auburn seem much more isolated to her. There is a structure there and not too much going on. In her mind, an incident like that does not seem as likely to happen there. It matters.
Team Dean has been to LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss more than those other schools. Alabama would probably come next after that. Georgia would probably be next in line in terms of visit frequency.
“All of them have pieces,” she said.
What about Georgia? Yes, the Bulldogs do have a piece.
He’s a bit slimmer now, but a very big piece of the Dean puzzle with Georgia weighed north of 320 when he was in the NFL.
That came after Jonas Jennings grew up in Atlanta and starred for the Bulldogs.
Nakobe Dean joined 4-star LB commit Rian “Trouble” Davis on their scavenger hunt across the UGA campus back in May. (Rian Davis/Twitter)
“Believe it or not there are several schools that I have gone to and I think that I have actually rubbed them the wrong way,” Neketta Dean said. “That came by talking about their “Jonas program” like the one they have at Georgia. Georgia has Jonas Jennings there.”
That is because she has her own worries about her “Baba” going off to school. Those are not hers alone either.
“I would be remiss to tell you that as a black mother raising a black son in today’s society that I don’t have fears and I don’t have worries,” she said. “There are things I have to constantly pray about and constantly have to keep it real about with my children.”
Jennings reassures her about those things.
“Coach [Kirby] Smart did something good when he put Jonas on this team,” she said. “Because he identifies. Jonas is another one that I feel like I can leave my son with and he will be alright. I believe that Jonas will help take care of him. I feel like he has put together a staff and a team of men that will help develop my son into the man he needs to be.”
It would be quite a scene to hear her reference “well UGA has this Jonas program” and “What does your Jonas program look like?” on those visits to other schools.
It must be quite a sight.
“They will say that ‘we got that’ and ‘here is our version of that’ but to me, it doesn’t connect like the way it does with Jonas and the way Jonas connects to UGA,” she said. “Jonas gets the personal stuff about different environments that young men come from. He is a role model. Jonas puts himself in not just a coach’s position but also as a real ‘Dad’ for a lot of those young men in that program.”
She delivers the ultimate endorsement.
“When Jonas talks to me, I feel like that he and Georgia can go ahead and take him now,” she said.
She said that Jennings is the sort of mentor that will fret over their technique and effort on the practice field.
But then he will also notice they keep wearing a new pair of shoes every day. The same color. He will see that and talk to those young men about depleting their bank account for foolish things.
“I like that,” she said. “I’m that way with my son. I’m like ‘what are you doing with that?’ and I am all up in his business,” she said. “UGA has the strongest ‘Jonas program’ around. Nobody has one like that. Nobody.”
Neketta knows she has steeled her son to take care of things in the classroom.
“He knows I do not play and knows the one thing is he will not come home without a degree,” she said.
Neketta Dean also knows football will take care of itself. It will be a bonus if anything.
“I care about his overall well-being and his happiness more than anything else after that,” she said. “What comes next after that is largely his health and his safety in an environment where he can do those things. I need to find that place that will focus on his character and when he gets out of character they will pull his chain when he needs it and tell him what he needs to do.”
Jonas Jennings continues to be an asset for the Bulldogs in his role as the Director of Player Development at UGA. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
When asked about her favorite visits, the family trip to UGA in May readily came to mind. That was the “Scavenger Hunt” weekend when Smart inserted himself into that campus quest.
“It showed us that coach Smart was just a regular guy who loved to hang out and be around his players,” she said. “He hangs out just like they do and it showed a lot and it was so much fun. We got a tour of the whole campus without feeling like we had something to get through.”
Dean wants to study engineering as an undergrad. It was quite the coincidence that the Dean of the engineering department at UGA was on his exploration team. Let’s not think that it was just pairing up a Dean with a random UGA Dean.
“That painted the picture of Georgia for us,” she said. “It really did.”
RELATED: Why Jonas Jennings is a secret weapon for UGA football
“Freestyle Fridays” for Nakobe Dean and “Team Dean”
There was a long period in his life where it was basically just Nakobe and his siblings. Neketta did not remarry. She did not believe in randomly introducing another male or a father figure type into her children’s lives.
Neketta asked her kids once about what they would remember the most about that childhood. That was when they were still fairly young.
5-star ILB Nakobe Dean was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Nike Opening back in July. He got to meet Dallas Cowboy star Ezekiel Elliott at the awards ceremony. (Jeff Sentell/Dawgnation)
She did not like their answers. She heard about stressful moments.
That time she lost her papers all over the yard. The kids had to chase them down. Or a missing USB flash drive.
“Everything that they remembered was about work,” Neketta Dean said. “That’s when we started doing “Freestyle Fridays” so we grew up doing that.”
“They weren’t allowed to play video games all week,” Dean said. “But on Fridays, if they wanted someone to stay over at our house they could do that. Whomever. If they wanted pizza and wings and a bunch of junk food they could do it then. If they wanted to play video games, they could do it.”
“We would have karaoke and dance contests. It would be me having fun with them. Being a goofy mom. Doing things for them so they would have other things to remember rather than me working all the time.”
Nakobe found himself locked in heated “Scrabble” battles with his Momma. He finally got her for the first time when he was in the fourth grade.
“He didn’t want me to beat him,” Dean said. “We would play for hours. He would literally be looking up words for hours.”
Neketta will not attest to the fact about who wins now. They have changed it up to Yahtzee.
“He’s a big kid but he’s a mama’s boy at the same time,” Dean said.
Nakobe Dean says that Kirby Smart talks to him mostly about his well-being at Georgia. Smart knows that he will handle the academics and football part of his potential campus fit there. (Cox Media Group file photo)
Georgia assistant coach Dan Lanning, one of his primary recruiters along with ILBs coach Glenn Schumann, even incorporated the “Freestyle Fridays” into his own family.
He got the blessing from his wife first. Of course. Then applied it to the Lanning clan.
Some might call it shrewd recruiting. Those with young kids would more likely just label it smart parenting. That’s taking a page out of a playbook that works.
“That meant a lot to me,” Neketta Dean said. “It showed me that they cared and it was not just recruiting. It showed me coach Lanning and his family were just regular people with a family to take care of on Fridays, too. He thanked me for that.”
“That coach Lanning is a sweetheart. I don’t know any other way to tell you. He is a sweetheart.”
What will power his final decision
This will be his third official. This visit will be important to see a full campus in Athens and what the gameday atmosphere looks like.
Nakobe said he does not have the decision in mind. Not right now. Not yet. When he named off the schools that are still in it, he did not include FSU. Texas A&M and LSU will get his last two officials.
He hopes to have a top 2 in mind prior to the LSU visit in early December. It will be up to the Tigers to rise above those other two options. Dean will make his public decision on Dec. 19.
But this is not something the family will stress about. If he had to, he could have made the decision after the first offer. He doesn’t look at these offers in terms of what they can do for him.
Nakobe Dean said he loves the “mentality and the mindset about Georgia” the best. He likes the winning mindset and the standard the program holds the players accountable to. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
“If I was forced to make the decision after my first offer, I could have made it then and there,” Nakobe Dean said. “It is not hard just being able to be blessed to play the game I love at the next level. I would just take that one offer and make that work. It will not be hard to make the decision when I have to make it.”
His mother feels he could make the decision now. She said he could have made it last month if he had to. The family had done that much research during the spring and summer and prior to his senior season and all these official visits.
“If he did not get to go on any official visits, I feel he has enough knowledge right now to go ahead and make the decision,” Neketta Dean said back on Sept. 26.
That was when it looked like the Bulldogs might not get an official visit. That came after that Vanderbilt visit plan was scratched at UGA’s request.
“It would not affect us and the way we feel about Georgia because we have visited with them,” Neketta Dean said.
So what’s left for this weekend?
A big remaining piece of the puzzle for Georgia will be to go over the academic strengths of the school and how they will fit into what Dean is looking for.
He will ask his mother for her input, but he will hope to remain humble through it all.
“We’re constantly reminding each other every day that this is all just a blessing from God,” his mother said. “We just want to walk through these good things that God has provided for us and we’re not going to do it with any pride or boasting or those things. We take a humble approach and we are thankful to have any invites to go play anywhere.”
It seems that the better players inspire a legion of nicknames. There are several in use by his family, but the one introduced for his exploits on the field is also memorable.
He is known as Ko-Dean for his jarring hits. That one also has a medical tint to it.
“That’s Ko-Dean as is codeine,” his mother said. “He’s there to knock folks out. Like codeine.”
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