Davis took bumpy road to NFL

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - Jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

set­backs.”

Whether his home has been Spokane or Belling­ham, Wash., Los An­ge­les or Cu­per­tino, Calif., Lo­gan, Utah, Mi­ami or Bal­ti­more, Davis has never had a prob­lem adapt­ing and fit­ting in. As a se­nior at Cen­tral Val­ley High in Spokane, Davis was voted stu­dent body pres­i­dent. When he was a Dol­phins rookie, Davis’ home be­came a gath­er­ing spot for cer­tain Mi­ami vet­er­ans.

“He’s got an en­ergy that makes it easy for him to bond with any­body, any group,” said wide re­ceiver Chuck Ja­cobs, who was with the Ravens for much of train­ing camp and was Davis’ team­mate at Utah State. “He’s re­ally well-rounded from that stand­point.”

Grow­ing up

Shon Davis Sr. grew up in Comp­ton, out­side Los An­ge­les, and got en­veloped by the drugs and gang lifestyle. He was shot twice. He was de­ter­mined to avoid the same chal­lenges for his three boys, so he moved his fam­ily to Spokane when Will was 4.

After Will’s par­ents di­vorced when he was 9, he spent school years with his father in Spokane and most sum­mers with his mother, who moved back to Comp­ton.

“Grow­ing up in that en­vi­ron­ment, I had to coach them as to their ap­pear­ance, their dress, their pos­ture, how you look at a per­son,” said Shon Sr., who is now a pas­tor. “I wanted them to un­der­stand, my strict­ness wasn’t to con­fine them. It was to pro­tect them.”

Will ini­tially re­belled against his father, but he soon got a wake-up call. He­was at his grand­mother’s house in the Comp­ton area when gun­fire erupted out­side.

A cou­ple of years later, his older brother, Shon Jr., was shot at by a gang mem­ber as he was cross­ing the street with a friend. Even be­fore that, Will de­cided his days in Comp­ton were over.

Back in Spokane, Will ex­celled in school and sports, won a district-wide award for his lead­er­ship and was on his way to a col­lege schol­ar­ship. How­ever, his se­nior year took a tragic turn. Will and his high school girl­friend had a baby girl Aug. 3, 2008. Ne­vaeh Dena Davis died the day she was born. Will said her rib cage didn’t de­velop, pre­vent­ing her lungs from ex­pand­ing.

“Hav­ing that taken away from you, it makes you see life a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” said Davis, who has his late daugh­ter’s hand­print tat­tooed on his left arm. “It makes you cher­ish the life you have. It ul­ti­mately changed my at­ti­tude go­ing for­ward.”

Slow to foot­ball

Shon Davis Jr.’s mid­dle name is Ko­hoakahi. His grand­mother is Hawai­ian, and the name means “The Cho­sen One.” For years, Will re­sented what he per­ceived as fa­vor- able treat­ment for his brother, older by 14 months. He and Shon Jr. had dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and Will made sure they had dif­fer­ent friends and in­ter­ests, too.

Will played bas­ket­ball, want­ing to be the next Allen Iver­son. For his first three years of high school, he avoided foot­ball.

“I didn’t want to be in my brother’s shadow,” Davis said. “I wanted to be bet­ter than him at ev­ery­thing, and foot­ball was the one thing I didn’t think I could be bet­ter than him at, so I didn’t play.”

Davis re­lented only after his brother’s promis­ing foot­ball ca­reer ended when he suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant knee in­jury. Davis proved to be a nat­u­ral at cor­ner­back and he was thrilled to have one school — in-state Divi­sion II Western Wash­ing­ton — willing to give him a schol­ar­ship.

How­ever, dur­ing his red­shirt fresh­man year there, the school an­nounced that it was drop­ping foot­ball for bud­getary rea­sons. Some of his older team­mates were in tears, but Davis shrugged it off, not be­liev­ing foot­ball was tak­ing him any­where, any­way. The school hon­ored its schol­ar­ships, so for the next year, Davis en­joyed col­lege and sat­is­fied his thirst for com­pe­ti­tion by play­ing flag foot­ball, in­tra­mu­ral dodge ball and bas­ket­ball.

“I was the star,” Davis said with a grin. “I just killed it.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, foot­ball drew him back, and Davis faced a de­ci­sion: Stay at Western Wash­ing­ton and get a free ed­u­ca­tion, or walk on at De Anza Col­lege, a ju­nior col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia, where an as­sis­tant coach had wooed him for some time.

“You ever get one of those gut feel­ings about some­body? I had that about him from the be­gin­ning,” Tony San­tos, now the De Anza head coach, said of Davis. “No other per­son in my 25 years have I re­cruited for two years. He was the only one.”

In one year at De Anza, Davis led all Cal­i­for­nia ju­nior col­lege play­ers in in­ter­cep­tions. Sud­denly, he had sev­eral big­ger pro­grams of­fer­ing schol­ar­ships. He chose Utah State, and in two years there, he had five in­ter­cep­tions and be­came an NFL prospect de­spite hav­ing played just four years of or­ga­nized foot­ball.

“He never took foot­ball too se­ri­ously,” Shon Jr. said. “But his com­pet­i­tive na­ture and drive, that’s al­ways been the core of who he is.”

A cul­tured cor­ner­back

In his first game­for the cor­ner­back-needy Ravens, Davis made a key pass breakup against An­to­nio Brown in the team’s Thurs­day night vic­tory over the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers. The next week, he tore the ACL in his left knee. Therange of emo­tions might be a mi­cro­cosm for Davis’ ca­reer.

“I think I was fi­nally about to be the kid that I knew that I would be­come in this Will Davis has be­come a world trav­eler and an as­pir­ing pho­tog­ra­pher. league, and it was taken away from me,” Davis said.

He didn’t stay down for long. When he wasn’t re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing this off­sea­son, he was vis­it­ing Italy and Mex­ico. Davis, who got his pass­port be­fore he was drafted, also has been to Swe­den and France. His girl­friend, Lisa Ma­son, a for­mer Bri­tish Olympic gym­nast, lives in the United King­dom, so he’s spent sig­nif­i­cant time there as well.

Davis has plans for more trav­el­ing in the fu­ture. He started an In­sta­gram ac­count where he shares some of his pho­tos.

“He be­came so cul­tured so quickly. He val­ues any­body who can give him a new per­spec­tive on life,” Shon Jr. said. “He’s re­ally in­spired a bunch of peo­ple in our fam­ily, in­clud­ing me. I got my pass­port after he started trav­el­ing. He set the tone for us not to be afraid of things that you’ve never tried be­fore.”

Shon Sr. con­sid­ered it a bless­ing that after Davis was drafted by the Dol­phins, Shon Jr.’s job with NBC Uni­ver­sal trans­ferred him to Mi­ami. The two broth­ers, at odds fre­quently dur­ing their ado­les­cence, lived to­gether and made up for lost time. For years, Will avoided play­ing foot­ball be­cause of his brother. Now, he can’t help but won­der how things would have been if he had started play­ing ear­lier.

But he hardly dwells on it. He’s too fo­cused on what’s in front of him.

“I dare any­body to spend an hour with my brother and not want the ut­most best for him,” Shon Jr. said. “He has an elec­tric per­son­al­ity. He’s very en­gag­ing, avoids neg­a­tiv­ity. He sees a lot of value in in­di­vid­u­als and mo­ments and wants to max­i­mize the right now.”

AL­GE­RINA PERNA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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