With scholarship in hand, Davaughn Celestine aims to prove more doubters wrong

Davaughn Celestine working out in Spring Camp. A few weeks later, SDSU would award him a full ride. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Davaughn Celestine (left) signing his preferred walk-on at El Dorado High School. Four years later, he earned a scholarship at SDSU. (Credit: (left) Facebook El Dorado High School Football and (right)Twitter @AztecFB)

At the end of March, SDSU safety Davaughn Celestine went back home to Placentia, CA, during Spring Break. He visited El Dorado High School, the place he starred as a football player and track athlete more than four years ago.  He made sure to visit Mrs. Armstrong, the school’s counselor, who he has continued to maintain a rapport and relationship with after high school.

But a discussion with Zach LaMonda, the head football, and track and field coach, on this visit may have been one of the most important of his life. 

(Don De Mars/EVT)

“I told him, if it happens, do me one favor,” recalled LaMonda in an interview with EVT. “I don’t want to see it on social media. Call me.”

“It” was Celestine earning a scholarship at SDSU after four seasons as a preferred walk-on (PWO).

Following the 2022 season, where he started 12 games at field warrior safety, it seemed likely that Celestine was in line to earn the final remaining scholarship in the fall semester. Instead, the full ride went to wide receiver Mekhi Shaw, who had also stepped up and become a vital part of the team during that season. 

“(Celestine) came by during spring break and asked me what I thought,” LaMonda said about Celestine not yet earning a scholarship. “I’m like, have you said anything? Have you talked to coach Hoke? You are a man now, and it’s time to step up and have a conversation (with the coaches).”

A few weeks later, on April 27, coach Hoke told Celestine in front of the team that he had earned a scholarship. 

“I couldn’t be prouder to award (Celestine) a scholarship,” coach Hoke told EVT earlier this week. “He’s earned it. He’s been a leader on and off the field. He’s a high-character guy and is about the team first. He’ll be a leader for us once again this year in the secondary.”

In an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast, Celestine spoke about his reaction to the news. 

“It’s nice to see the hard work finally paying off,” he said. “Accepting that challenge and doing exactly what I came here to do.”

The team’s Twitter account posted a video of the announcement, which showed Celestine being surrounded and congratulated by numerous teammates. 

You love to see the camaraderie among teammates,” Ivanoe Celestine, Davaughn’s mother, told EVT when asked her reaction to watching the video. “As a mother, you want others to be excited about your child as you are. Everyone wants to see the underdog succeed.”

Celestine’s underdog story began under the tutelage of LaMonda at El Dorado High School. As a sophomore and junior, while he played both sides of the ball (wide receiver and cornerback), Celestine did not have a significant role and thus did not attract attention from scouts.  

“Nowadays with recruiting, a lot of the junior film is what is weighted heavily from a college standpoint, and at the time, (Celestine’s) junior film was good, but it wasn’t at the level of Division 1 schools,” said LaMonda.

(Don De Mars/EVT)

Heading into his senior year, Celestine got bigger, stronger, and faster, according to LaMonda. After starting the season at wide receiver, LaMonda adjusted the offense, moved Celestine to running back, and his game took off. 

“That was the time where everything clicked for him,” noted LaMonda. “He never came off the field. He was the best athlete at multiple positions for us.”

On offense, Celestine ran for 689 yards and six touchdowns while catching 13 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 57 tackles, seven interceptions, and 11 passes defended on the way to earning First-Team All-League honors. 

That wasn’t it for Celestine, though. He was also the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year after scoring three return touchdowns and averaging 36 yards per return on kickoffs and punts.   

Despite the accolades and performance, it was too late to attract D1 schools with open scholarships. Celestine received offers from D2 and D3 programs, including California Lutheran in nearby Thousand Oaks, CA, which plays in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCAIC). 

Accepting a scholarship offer to play at Cal Lutheran was nearly Celestine’s plan. But a visit to Oregon State set up by LaMonda led to a PWO offer. 

Before making a final decision, Celestine asked LaMonda about SDSU, his coach’s alma mater, where he played offensive line from 1997 through 2001. LaMonda sprung into action, called former teammate Jerome Haywood, who was a coach at SDSU at the time, and helped Celestine get a PWO offer. 

While SDSU was atop Celestine’s wish list, the decision to bypass a full-ride scholarship for a PWO was a difficult one to make. Celestine credits his mom for guiding the decision.  

“I didn’t want to wait forever to get on scholarship, but she said don’t worry about that, we will worry about (financials) when it comes,” Celestine said. “I will back you all the way. If you want to go bet on yourself, go do that.”

LaMonda’s experience and encouragement towards SDSU played a large factor in the choice instead of Oregon State because of the trust the coach had built, not only with Celestine but his entire family. LaMonda also coached Celestine’s older brother and currently coaches the youngest brother of three.  

His mother didn’t mind the choice either.  

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He’s my baby,” Ms. Celestine said. “I didn’t want him to go out of state. I needed him to make the best decision for himself, and SDSU was on his list from the beginning, so it was a win-win.

The first three years at SDSU were difficult for Celestine. After redshirting the 2019 season, COVID shortening the 2020 season, and only playing on special teams in 2021, his goal of earning a scholarship appeared to be slipping away. 

His family made sure to keep him focused. 

“As a mom, I am going to support my baby 100%,” said Ms. Celestine. “It was up to all of us in the family to come to the games and support him even when he wasn’t playing. We gave him constant support and encouragement so he would not get too down on himself and told him he had to remind the coaches why they brought him to the team. I kept telling him that he has to wait for his chance and he has to be ready.”

His chance came in week 2 against Idaho State last season, and he was definitely ready. Starting at field warrior, Celestine led the team with nine tackles (eight solo) and two pass breakups in a 38-7 victory. Postgame, coach Hoke cited Celestine’s physical play and tackling ability for deserving the start.  

It’s game time,” Celestine said when asked what was going through his mind when he found out earlier in the week he would start. “This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for this whole time. Just went out there and trusted everything I’ve been doing.”

Celestine started all remaining 11 games and finished the season with 48 tackles, four passes defended, one interception, and two forced fumbles. His 41 solo tackles were second-best on the team behind linebacker Michael Shawcroft (50). 

“He has a great sense for the football and really understands the game,” said LaMonda, adding that Celestine’s experience playing on both sides of the ball gave him an advantage against his opponent.

“He was so successful on offense for us because he could think like a defensive player. On defense, he has the tools to know which running lane that a running back will look to cut off or which space a wide receiver will look to find.”

In previous years, Celestine picked up jobs over the summer to help supplement paying school costs not covered by financial aid. He worked security at festivals. Two summers ago, he worked at Amazon. Last summer, in a warehouse. Anything he could find, he would do. With his scholarship taking effect this current semester, this will be the first summer he can focus solely on football. 

(Don De Mars/EVT)

While he feels he had a solid first year as a starter, he knows he can play better heading into his senior season. 

“I had a lot of second-guessing instead of just playing fast and doing what got me here (last year),” said Celestine. “I got away from that for a little bit and then turned it around and feel like I had a good (Hawai’i Bowl).”

The Aztecs’ secondary lost its All-Conference player and leader, Patrick McMorris, via transfer to Cal last month. With his departure, other guys will need to step up in leadership roles. As one of the two returning starters at safety (with Cedarious Barfield), Celestine may need to step out of his comfort zone. 

I’m not really that type of vocal person, but if I have to take on that role, I will most definitely,” he said.

His mother and LaMonda don’t think it will be a problem. 

He is a leader because, with his smile and demeanor to go with his skills, people want to follow him,” Ms. Celestine remarked. “It’s always been his personality.”

“He has a calming sense about him,” LaMonda said. “He’s always a positive person. He’s someone that you remember by the smile on his face. But don’t let that smile fool you because he’s tough-nosed. He works hard, and he grinds.”

For LaMonda and his wife, who also attended SDSU and played soccer, they are eager to make it to Snapdragon Stadium this coming season to attend a game. Their work schedules prevented a trip in the stadium’s inaugural season.

Celestine held up his end of the bargain with LaMonda. 

After calling his parents first, Celestine’s second call was to his high school coach to break the news before social media could. 

In a coincidental fate, LaMonda happened to be in Mrs. Armstrong’s office when he answered the call.  

“When he told me, I put it on speakerphone, told him I was in her office, and asked him to repeat it again,” said LaMonda. “We were both really excited and happy for him, and Mrs. Armstrong started getting emotional about it.”

For Celestine, earning a scholarship is not his finish line but rather the start of the next journey. 

“I still have more time to prove even more people wrong and just build off what I’ve already built on.”

He will be able to starting August 26. 

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