Cody Latimer’s best return Sunday may not have been that one with just under five minutes left in the first half, when he fielded a kick by Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent a yard deep in the end zone and returned it 46 yards before getting tripped up by the last Bengal between him and the end zone.
The Denver return man from Jefferson High School showed his elusiveness and his strength on that return and, though he finally was tripped up, his momentum helped propel the Broncos to score a go-ahead touchdown 12 plays later.
And yet a better Latimer return — at least of you were Angela Gooden and Noell Jackson, themselves Jefferson grads — came outside Paul Brown Stadium after the Broncos had beaten the Bengals, 29-17.
The pair, along with a few other folks from the Miami Valley, joined in with a group of Denver fans who had congregated behind a portable barricade and waited for their heroes to emerge from the dressing room and then trek up the stadium tunnel to the waiting team buses.
Gooden and Jackson sang the praises of the 6-foot-2, 235-pound receiver and special teams stalwart who had starred in basketball and football at Jefferson and then went on to Indiana University and did the same before the Bronco made him a second round pick in 2014.
“Coming from a small school like Jefferson Township, he really makes us proud,” Gooden said. “He‘s never forgotten where he came from. He is…”
Before she could finish, Jackson cut her off: “There he is!”
Latimer – with a sport coat and a backpack and wearing headphones pulled down across his curled and once gilded Mohawk – came walking toward the bus.
“Cody! Cody! Come over here!” yelled Jackson, who is in marketing for the f’real milkshake company.
Latimer looked over, hesitated, then stepped into the bus.
“Maybe he’ll come back out,” said Gooden, a fraud investigator for the state of Ohio.
The team was in a hurry to catch its flight to Denver so that seemed doubtful, but then Latimer did come back out of the bus.
“Here he comes now!” Gooding said with a grin.
Latimer headed straight over to the group, which also included Tiara Ferguson, who went to school with him and now works at TJ Chumps, as well as Troy’s Brandon Evans, who was with his mom Mary and had gone to IU with Cody.
He took photos with some of the people and met a young Oakwood kid, R.J. Plunkett, whose left arm was bandaged – “I got stitches after I went through a window playing,” – and autographed the wrapping.
Gooden spoke for all of them: “Cody showed out for the home folks today.”
Playing on several special teams, Latimer was especially effective as a kick returner, totaling 83 yards on three returns. He also caught one pass for 10 yards.
“He’s an amazing athlete and person,” Ferguson said. “He’s stayed humble and true to who he is. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from.”
A few minutes earlier Latimer had confirmed that when he talked about his past while getting dressed in the Bronco’s quarters.
“I’ll never forget where I came from,” he said. “A lot of people from Dayton helped me get here.”
He was referring especially to his mom, Tonya Dunson, as well as his godfather Ron Todd, who along with Kyle Kramer, had played with Cody’s dad at Bowling Green and looked out for Cody later.
Sunday, Latimer made special mention of his dad, Colby Latimer, who had died after an eight-month bout with colon cancer in 2005. Cody was just 12 at the time.
“I feel I’m getting the chance my dad never did,” Latimer said. “I feel like I’m out here fulfilling his dream now and he’s looking down from up above. Hopefully…he’s proud.”
Colby Latimer was a multi-sport star at Dunbar in the 1980s and then was a standout linebacker at BGSU.
He had various medical and emotional struggles after that and he and Tonya separated when Cody was small.
Tonya raised Cody, but the boy also embraced his dad.
He once told me about the last time he saw his father, who was at Kettering Hospital:
“It was a horrible feeling walking in that room,” he said. “Dad was real weak. He had all kinds of tubes in him and his eyes were yellow, but he was able to talk a little bit. He told me how much he loved me and how he wanted me to stay strong.
“The next day he was out of it and then … he just died. It really hit me. I got so down, so depressed. I felt all alone … like I’d lost everything in the world.”
Cody found an outlet in sports. In 2010, he teamed with Adreian Payne, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves – to lead Jefferson to the Division IV state basketball title. Although he only played football his final two years of high school, he quickly became a star and has continued to blossom since.
Last season he and the Broncos won the Super Bowl and are off to 3-0 start this year.
“Every game I remember my dad,” he once told me.,
Over the years he’s done that in other ways than just on the football field.
He has his dad’s nickname “Colbster” tattooed on his side.
When he became a pro, Latimer launched a website thecodylatimer.com where he’s sold T-shirts with the funds going to the American Cancer Society in honor of his father.
He also became a regular at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He would visit the oncology ward and through that, he also made it to another wing and met Carson Cline, then an 8-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.
They have become great pals and Latimer was wearing a rubber bracelet honoring Carson on Sunday.
“He’s a wild one,” Latimer laughed. “You would never know he has cerebral palsy. He such a joy. He brings a smile to my face every time I see him. I just visited his school again last week.”
Latimer’s affinity to kids extends to his own son Jacolby, who was born last December.
“His mom is Jaimee, so that’s the first part of his name and the rest is to honor my dad,” Latimer said.
“He lives with me now and I want to teach him a lot of the things my dad wasn’t able to because he wasn’t around. I want to teach my son the ropes. I think I’ve got some lessons for him.”
Out there beyond the buses Angela Gooden agreed:
“He’s a guy who remembers where he came from.”
And she had the photo to prove it.