Before the ball was even snapped, Ericka Lassiter moved from her seat in the fifth row of Section 7 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium to the front row.
She sensed that something big was coming. And then it did. And she missed it.
“Before I could even open my eyes he had the ball,” she said of her son Kwinton’s interception late in the Jayhawks’ victory over Missouri State last Friday night. “I literally felt it and I just knew it was coming. I saw where he lined up and when the QB turned his way, I knew that was his moment.”
Every week before their games, Ericka sends her sons various prayers. Good health is always a part of them, but she’s a football mom and makes sure to try to inspire a few plays with her prayers, as well.
“I always looked at it like I’m the next great (No.) 8 at Kansas and I’ve got to go out there and make plays like they did.” — KU cornerback Kwinton Lassiter
This one was more of a family deal, with former KU wideout Kwamie Lassiter II getting in on the act at the team hotel before the game. Kwamie, who they call KJ, flew in Friday morning and immediately went to the hotel with his mom and Kwinton’s twin brother Kwincy.
His message was simple.
“I was like, ‘Hey, when you get your interception tonight, bring it to me,’” KJ told R1S1 Sports of his pregame words for his younger brother.
Sure enough, that’s exactly how it went down, with Kwinton recording the interception by jumping a route run by the Missouri State tight end to put the final stamp on a strong opener for Kansas. From there, a party ensued on the sideline when he ran right toward KJ and Kwincy with the ball in hand. Ericka stood directly behind them all and took it in.
“It was very emotional,” she told R1S1. “For all of us to be right there to share in that moment and the excitement, that was really nice. That’s just something I’ll bottle up in my memories of KU football. We actually prayed for a pick-6, but beggars can’t be choosers. We got the pick. We’ll get the six next time.”
That was the prevailing thought held by all of the Lassiters who watched Kwinton make his mark on the same program — and same field — that his brother and late father did before him.
And while Friday’s interception was important, the Lassiter family believes it was just the beginning of Kwinton’s story.
“That’s just one play in the first game,” KJ told R1S1. “Now he’s got to go make more plays. But it’s definitely special and it’s something that we’ll talk about forever, knowing that we all made plays on that field.”
Added Ericka, who considered the moment “a final answer” to a whole bunch of prayers: “We’re not done. This is just the start for him, and I’m thinking there are more plays to be made.”
Kwinton’s bond with his late father, who starred at safety for KU from 1991-94, was slightly different than the one his four brothers had with him. Unlike the rest, who all played wide receiver, Kwinton followed his dad’s footsteps to the defensive side of the ball.
“That was always just his side of the ball,” Ericka said. “Of course, Kwamie wanted them all on that side of ball.”
Later this season, Kwinton and younger brother Darius, a wideout at BYU, will have the chance to face off against each other when the Cougars come to Lawrence on Sept. 23.
“We’re calling it the Battle of the Brothers," Erika said of that KU-BYU game, for which she has a blue T-Shirt with both of their photos on it already made and ready to wear. "We’re excited about that one. It’s for bragging rights.”
While Ericka remembers her husband always pushing his sons to be “better than him,” she said she never felt like her son felt any pressure to live up to the family name. But she — and he — was always aware that people do make comparisons and set expectations, and that aspect of Kwinton’s big night merely added to the joy they all experienced.
Ericka said she received texts from people after the game that said they knew “Kwamie was looking down smiling.”
“I like to think he’s always smiling,” she said. “But that probably sealed it."
Kwinton’s first KU interception was a long time coming for the former Free State Firebird, who still owns his high school’s single-season interception record (9) and started his college career at Butler Community College.
He always believed he could play at the same level his father and brother did. They believed it, too. And they told him that whenever they could. But he still needed to see it for himself to believe them, and his path was more about the chance to do so than anything else.
“He’s worked very hard,” Erika said. “He knew he had it in him, but it’s just been a matter of getting the opportunity to get out there and show what he can do and prove to everybody — himself, included — what he can do.”
Asked if he needed a moment like his interception against Missouri State to feel like he fully belonged in the same breath as his late father and older brother, Kwinton admitted that he had those thoughts throughout the years.
“A little bit,” he told R1S1. “I always looked at it like I’m the next great (No.) 8 at Kansas and I’ve got to go out there and make plays like they did.”
Mom sensed it, too, even if it was never really discussed.
“I think it’s just known,” she said. “It’s like when you know something in your heart and you give someone a look and you both just know. I don’t think he felt any extra pressure because, but I think he wanted it for himself, to make plays on that field, too.”
None of it surprised KJ, who has seen his brother make plays like that countless times.
“We expect to make those plays,” KJ said. “My dad would’ve never thought that was anything other than us using our training and doing what we have to do. We’re supposed to make those plays.”
If anything surprised KJ during that memorable moment last Friday night, it was the helmet to the face that came during the sideline celebration.
“The main thing he told me was, ‘Hey, you head-butted me,’” Kwinton said of the postgame words he received from KJ. “But he was very excited. It wasn’t anything new for him. He’s seen it. But to know that everyone else saw it, I think that meant a lot to him.”
Because of his own NFL schedule, KJ does not expect to see his brother play in person again until the final game of the regular season, when KU travels to Cincinnati during a weekend in which the Bengals have a home game.
The timing worked out great for that one and KJ’s expectations for his brother in that game will be the same as they were against Missouri State — get a pick and bring me the ball.
This time, he plans on keeping it, though, rather than having to return it to the opposing sideline like he did with the Missouri State ball.
“Next time, I’m going run to the top of the stadium with it,” KJ said.
— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit kutickets.com