'Run angry'

His dad gunned down in a Denny's. His brother charged with attempted murder. What makes Derrius Guice, LSU's next superstar running back, even more enticing to NFL scouts than Leonard Fournette? He knows what he's running from. And he's never going to stop.

By Matt Hayes

December 27, 2016

Tim Mueller / Special to Bleacher Report

He can't unsee it. The image flashing on the television of a man on the ground with a bloody bag covering his lifeless body.

He can't unhear it. The friends and family at his home days later, speaking in hushed tones about the headstrong father who never backed down, and about how it took two days to get all his blood out of the carpet of the Denny's.

He can't forget it.

Derrius Guice was only six years old when his father was murdered, when he saw the scene on the news, when he heard his family debating the fight that led to the gunshots.

"You see that stuff when you're [that young]…that takes a huge toll on you," Guice says. "That sticks with you forever."

It's enough to wreck a family. But it didn't wreck Guice.

Instead, the trauma became the foundation for his future, for how he would escape a similar destiny and instead become what he is today, a star running back at LSU with a potentially huge NFL future.

"I'm not turning back there," Guice says.

Not turning back there. It's a mantra. It's a way forward. For Guice, it's the only way forward.

Not turning back there to South Baton Rouge, mere miles away from Guice's new safe haven on the stately, oak-shrouded LSU campus.

Not turning back there to the corner of Highland Road and Washington Street, where the washed-up and washed-out stand and talk about how great they once were at football or basketball—how they didn't really want this life of stealing and drugs and guns, but how they sure as hell weren't going to leave their boys behind.

Not turning back there to the days of not knowing where he'd sleep at night or what he'd eat on any given day, if anything.

Not turning back there to the painful days of high school at a local, nearly all-white private school plopped in the middle of South Baton Rouge like a rose amid the thorns—a school that recruited him to play football, then threw him into a mess of racism and stereotypes.

Not turning back there to a reality that still exists, in which Guice's older brother Derrick, named after their murdered father, was arrested just a month ago—two days before LSU's mega-matchup against Alabama—for (among other charges) attempted second-degree murder. Derrick is accused of driving the getaway car after two other men fired 37 shots into a house on Nebraska Street, just two blocks from where the brothers grew up.

Not turning back there to a past Guice is still running from.

"People tell me, 'Man, you run angry,'" Guice says. "If you grew up where I grew up, and you knew this game was the only thing that can get you and your family out, you'd run angry, too. Every damn time you touched the ball."

The results are startling, even compared to projected top-five draft pick Leonard Fournette, the tailback with whom Guice currently shares carries at LSU. 

"The way [Guice] runs, my guess is half or more [NFL teams] would take him over Fournette right now."

— AFC scout

Fournette missed four games this fall with a dinged ankle, and in those games, Guice rushed for nearly as many yards (765) as Fournette did all season (843). Guice's 8.6 yards per carry as the starter (and 8.0 overall) are ahead of Fournette's average (6.5), and Guice is leading LSU in yards (1,249) and touchdowns (14) heading into the Citrus Bowl against Louisville on New Year's Eve.

Fournette has announced he will skip the team's Citrus Bowl appearance this week and then forego his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, leaving the job to Guice. If the next year goes as expected, Guice will eventually be in the same position Fournette is in. He says he also plans to skip his senior season in favor of the draft.

NFL teams will be waiting.

At least, that's the way it looks from the outside.

"The way [Guice] runs, my guess is half or more [teams] would take him over Fournette right now," one AFC scout says. "You have to understand, it's not just highlight plays in this league. It's the ability to grind over four quarters, and yeah, it's absolutely the want and desire to run the ball."

Image title

Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice (Butch Dill / AP Photo).

Asked if Fournette has that want and desire, the scout says, "That will be the No. 1 question from every team that interviews him."

Asked if Guice has it, the scout simply says, "The tape is your resume."

Fournette has seen it up close. The want and desire. The running angry.

"Derrius runs like he might never run again," he says.


Chris Graythen / Getty Images

On the morning of May 3, 2003, before Derrick Guice left his home on Alice Street to go work for a local landscaping company, his youngest son told him he was going to be the best running back to ever come out of the city. He would play for LSU and in the NFL and make so much money, he and his family would never see South Baton Rouge again.

"The last words I said to my dad," Guice remembers.

So much has changed 13 years later. The Denny's is now a local Mexican restaurant just off the Acadian Thruway, settled in front of a refurbished La Quinta Inn and next to the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corporation.

Life moves forward. It twists and turns and tests you to your core.

When he was 14, Guice was caught shoplifting food and spent a night in juvenile detention. He was hungry. He had to eat.

That night with 20 other boys, one toilet and no privacy in a small cell changed who Guice is and what he wanted from life. By the end of the night, Guice swears he knew the specific smell of every other boy in the cell.

"I'm not going to lie, I'm not that big spiritually. I don't like the way a lot of stuff goes," Guice says. "I don't know why…"

He pauses, looks through a clear November afternoon on the campus at LSU and points north to where he grew up.

"You know what? I've learned you just have to do it yourself."

— Derrius Guice

"Well, I do know why," he continues. "I just wish it wasn't like that. Half of the time, I don't feel like He listens. We're Your kids. It's like your mom or dad watching you get killed. How can You just let Your child die? Even with me. How do You let me go through all of this? How do You let me not have food or a place to stay? I'm Your child."

The introspective moment of questioning faith hangs in the air and is heavy and heart-wrenching, a bared soul searching for answers he still hasn't found.

"You know what?" Guice finally says, with both a hint of defiance and deflation, "I've learned you just have to do it yourself."

Or maybe, you're so invested in building paths and walls to find success and avoid more heartache, you can't see others in your life helping you through it.

"There's no such thing as you can't get out. You can always get out," Guice says. "I hate when people tell me s--t like that, because you have a choice. There are consequences to every choice you make."


Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

The Baton Rouge Police Department report from May 3, 2003, says Derrick "Gillieboy" Guice, 27, was shot multiple times by Phillip Jones after an argument. Witnesses said Guice and his friends were in Denny's when Jones thought Guice looked at his girlfriend. Jones approached Guice, an argument ensued and Guice punched Jones, who pulled out a concealed Glock semi-automatic and shot Guice multiple times.

Guice, trying to get out of the Denny's, crawled to the door, where his friends said he was shot again in the back. Nearly a third of the 33-round magazine punctured his body. He tried to make it out to the very end.

They cleaned up at Denny's and opened the next day but closed again before lunch because blood was seeping through the carpet.

You can't unhear something like. Can't forget it.

"He's still a part of me," Beulah Guice, Derrick's widow, says. "You would think after all these years that it wouldn't bother me. But it still does."

She was 14 when they met, teenage soul mates who had children early and wanted out of South Baton Rouge. She was 22 when the call came, and she was told the only man she ever loved had been gunned down.

The man who provided for his family and made sure everyone had what they needed.

The man who was always around his sons.

The man who always made time to take his wife anywhere she wanted to show her how much he appreciated her.

Beulah never remarried.

"I've met a lot of fools. I haven't met a good man like [Derrick]," Beulah says. "I had a great marriage with my kids' father, and at a young age. Who wouldn't want that? That part of my life is gone, and it's very hard. I'm sure it's still hard for Derrius, too."

"People tell me, 'Man, you run angry. If you grew up where I grew up, and you knew this game was the only thing that can get you and your family out, you'd run angry, too. Every damn time you touched the ball."

— Derrius Guice

They would get through it, she told her children. They had family, they had a support system and they had sports, which Beulah pushed her boys into to keep them from the alternative: hanging on the street corner and finding trouble.

What Guice found in sports was much more than a way out. He found true, lasting friendship in a group of three friends who had similar problems and ambition. They used each other as emotional and physical crutches.

They were always together, these four from the neighborhood: Guice, Trevell Johnson, Javahn Ferguson and Charles Vaughn. They played little league football together, ran track together and stayed at each other's homes.

They argued, they laughed, they cried. They each suffered through losses in their families, and when they did, they grieved together.

They walked up and down the streets of South Baton Rouge, day after day, night after night, always planning, always searching for a way out.

"They are my brothers," Johnson says. "They are my family."

The four young men had so much potential as football players that by the time they were finishing eighth grade, a choice had to be made: Where would they go to high school?

Only 14 years old, they already were known in the neighborhood as elite athletes. There was tension because Catholic High was recruiting Guice, Johnson and Ferguson to leave their public school, McKinley, and play for the rival Bears. Warrick Dunn—the most famous Catholic alum—even called to talk up the benefits of playing for the private school.

Guice, Johnson and Ferguson decided to go to Catholic, while Vaughn stayed at McKinley.

Image title

Trevell Johnson, Catholic defensive coordinator Anthony Camp, Derrius Guice and Javahn Ferguson (courtesy of Trevell Johnson).

It wound up being the best choice each could make. But it also led to criticism from both the locals—Why are you playing for the white school and not your neighborhood?—and from those within Catholic.

A volatile cocktail of criticism, jealousy and racism made those four years at Catholic no easier than avoiding the danger in their neighborhood.  

You don't deserve to be here.

You can't even pass the entrance exam.

If you weren't a football player, there's no way you'd be here.

This isn't your school.

"When you're a black person, the only time you really see racism like that, to that full an extent, is when you're watching a movie," Johnson says. "We were living that movie. It was like, Is this really happening? I never thought it was real. We were just kids, and it really affected us mentally."

To understand what the three boys experienced at Catholic, you must understand that it went well beyond academics or sports. It was a cultural bombshell.

Johnson and Guice didn't know how to speak to another race of people—students and teachers—and spent the first year at Catholic not talking to anyone.

If you don't feel comfortable speaking, you're not raising your hand in class. You're not making friends. You're reinforcing every awful stereotype.

"I was the only one who knew how to speak properly," Ferguson says. "I was exposed to more as a child. Both of my parents went to college. Growing up in our neighborhood, no one teaches you how to approach a white man. When they finally got that opportunity, they didn't know how. Experiences are everything. People in our neighborhood in their 20s and 30s still have never shaken a white man's hand.

"Imagine these three young kids, right down the street from LSU, two or three blocks away from the white population, who never walked up to a white person and said, 'Hello, how are you?' Going to class at Catholic was nothing. Living in that world was harder than anything we experienced in our lives."

It should come as no surprise then that the transition was brutal. There were many days of detention and staying late to rake leaves and wash tables and chairs and clean blackboards.

The cultures were colliding, and Guice wanted out. Before his first year ended—by school rule, they couldn't play varsity football as ninth-graders, even though they would've started—Guice was racing home after practice and begging Beulah to let him transfer to McKinley. He couldn't take the negativity anymore.

Forget it, Beulah told him.

The scholarship Guice received didn't cover the entire tuition, and Beulah was working long hours at Wal-Mart to make up for the difference. There's a reason the refrigerator was empty and the pantry was full of empty shelves more often than not.

It was more important for Beulah to pay her share of the tuition—even if she could rarely pay it on time.

"There was no way he was leaving that school," Beulah says. "How many kids where he grew up got this opportunity?

"I can't tell you how many times he came home crying. I told him, 'Years from now, you'll look back on this as the most important time in your life.'"

Says Derrius: "Despite all I went through [at Catholic], I can absolutely say it made me the man I am today."


Tim Mueller / Special to Bleacher Report

Everything began to change for Guice at Catholic at the beginning of his junior year, when he met Stephanie de la Houssaye. A guidance counselor at Catholic, de la Houssaye gravitated toward the three boys—and Guice, specifically—because of their struggles at the school and because she knew what it was like to live his life.

Growing up poor in New Orleans, de la Houssaye's mother earned $9,000 a year, and she went to a private Catholic school with paid tuition. She, too, never felt like she fit in. Her family went days without eating, and there were times when she didn't know where she'd sleep.

Instead of football, she used academics as a way out of her situation, securing Pell Grants and eventually earning an undergraduate degree from New Orleans and a master's from Central Arkansas.

When she first came across Guice, he was constantly getting in trouble and his grades were nowhere near where he needed them to qualify for NCAA freshman eligibility. By the end of his junior year, his grades had dramatically improved and he no longer was a fixture raking leaves in the courtyard.

He ate meals with de la Houssaye and her family, spent nights in their spare bedroom and went on family vacations with them.

"It was The Blind Side movie come true," Guice says.

Catholic coach Dale Weiner helped make it work for Guice, too. Football workouts at Catholic were at 6 a.m. Guice couldn't get a ride from his mother, so he had to run two miles to school every morning. By junior year, Weiner had started picking up Johnson and Guice at their houses on his way to school.

"It was The Blind Side movie come true."

— Derrius Guice

Guice spent so much time with de la Houssaye and her family that heading into his senior year, Catholic administrators told her she had to limit her guidance to school hours or she'd lose her job.

"I had to make a choice," de la Houssaye says. "I chose Derrius over my job and have never regretted it."

Guice continued to spend time with de la Houssaye and her husband and two boys—with the family that changed his life—despite the school's orders. He would eat and stay overnight, get up early, and she would drive him home before Weiner's horn.

Eventually, de la Houssaye quit the school.

Guice calls her his godmother, and there was a time when de la Houssaye and her husband wanted to adopt Guice. Beulah said no but also says she loves de la Houssaye and is grateful for their relationship.

"There is no doubt in my mind that God put Stephanie in Derrius' life for a reason," Beulah says. "You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? Derrius had a village."


Jonathan Bachman / AP Photo

"You just have to do it yourself." That's what Guice said about his path out of South Baton Rouge. Maybe he was so focused on finding paths and building walls to avoid more heartache that he never saw that village right in front of him.

There was Beulah. There was de la Houssaye and her family. There was Weiner.

There was also Beulah's brother, Anthony Black, with whom Guice lived on and off after his father's death. Black would become a father figure Guice desperately needed.

"He didn't like my rules, but he knew there was no other way, and he knew I was in it for him," Black says. "That's why to this day, I can tell him what he's doing wrong. He may not like it, but he listens."

And there was Guice's little league football coach, Terry Boyd, who also took him in for stretches of time, leaving a lasting memory when he explained to seven-year-old Guice his basic rule to live by: If you don't work, you don't eat.

"I'm not out yet. There's still some work to be done."

— Derrius Guice

In the classroom and on the football field. In your community and with your family.

"Sometimes being forced to grow up early will take you down the wrong path, and the street will raise you," Boyd says. "He may not have known it then, but Derrius had strong people in his corner."

He also had Johnson, Ferguson and Vaughn, three young men who refused to accept their destiny and found a way out. By the time their senior seasons ended at their respective schools, the four friends had to choose where they would play college football.

Image title

Javahn Ferguson, Derrius Guice and Trevell Johnson (courtesy of Javahn Ferguson).

Everyone wanted Guice. Hell, he had Nick Saban chasing after him. The dream of playing at LSU, of fulfilling the promise to his father, was within his grasp.

So was the reality that—just like the washed-up and washed-out standing on the corner of Highland and Washington—he couldn't leave his boys behind. At one point, Guice told the Southern Miss coaches that he'd give up on playing for LSU if the Eagles took him and his three friends.

The same four who lived together and avoided hell together. Who laughed and cried and argued and celebrated right next to each other for the last eight years.

"I told him, 'No way, bro. No way you're not going to LSU,'" Ferguson says. "That was the biggest argument we ever had. In the end, he had to go."

Guice left for LSU. Johnson, who could've also played for LSU but didn't qualify academically, headed to Southern University in Baton Rouge. Vaughn got a full ride to Northwestern State, and Ferguson got the same from New Mexico State.

All four made it out. For now, at least.

"I'm not out yet," Guice says. "There's still some work to be done."


Tim Mueller / Special to Bleacher Report

Last month, Guice had to prepare a persuasive speech for one of his classes at LSU. His professor told him to do it on something he's passionate about.

Twenty minutes before class began, he started writing: the public perception of student-athletes.

Who does your homework for you?

You don't take tests.

I bet you don't go to class.

You're not that smart.

Those tutors have to write papers for you.

You can't unhear that. Can't forget it.

Before Guice's speech, his professor asked the class how many students believed football players get preferential treatment at LSU? The entire class raised their hands.

Then Guice went to work, in the same way that he attacks defenses on the field.

"The reality is, there are more eyes on us and more people know us. We are constantly being watched," Guice began. "We have class-checkers. We have to take our tests in testing centers, just like you. Our tutors go through compliance every year. They can't give us a pencil without getting fired. You think we get grades because we play football? Ask that man right there if he gives me a grade.

"Everybody says we get money. OK, we get paid $1,000 a month, and $800 goes to rent and another $70 goes to electricity, and if you have $100 after bills, you're lucky."

At the end of his speech, the professor again asked if the class thought football players get preferential treatment. Only two students raised their hand.

"I did my job," Guice says. "And I got an A."

If only he were that persuasive with those closest to him. When he first heard his older brother had been arrested for attempted murder, he recognized the connection. Earlier that day, he says, he saw one of their old friends from South Baton Rouge was killed.

Soon after his arrest, Derrick tried to reach out to Guice—and pull him back into a life he has run from for 13 years.

"I've been getting my brother out of s--t all his life," Guice says. "I don't think he gets it. I'm almost gone for good. I'm almost out. All he has to do is literally chill for one more year and relax until I'm out, and he's got a brother who has a chance to make millions and take care of him. If I had that, I'd be inside all day.

"I don't know why he's with these people 24/7. I'm in college now. My name and face are everywhere. I'm not risking my future because of him."

He pauses and stares out the window at South Baton Rouge. He's aggravated now, not so much at his brother but at a neighborhood that waits for young men to make the wrong choice, then sucks them in so they can't escape.

He's aggravated because his brother Derrick has the same characteristics his father had. He's stubborn. He doesn't back down from anyone or anything. He absolutely refuses to let someone tell him what to do. Even his brother.

"When he's in something, he feels like he has a point to prove," Guice begins again. "What's the point? The only point you're proving is you can get killed."

Guice already knows what that looks like. He can never unsee it.


Follow Matt Hayes on Twitter: @matthayescfb.