Show­ing the way

Dou­glas cred­its men­tor Davis for steer­ing him in the right di­rec­tion

The Morning Call - - NFL - By Tom Moore Tom Moore is a columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times: He can be reached at: [email protected]­er­times.com; @TomMoorePh­illy.

Mike Davis wouldn’t give up on Ra­sul Dou­glas.

Davis’ com­mit­ment was put to the test when he learned a gang in East Or­ange, N.J., had been re­cruit­ing Dou­glas at the age of 15. Davis quickly con­fronted Dou­glas, who replied, “What­ever you do, don’t tell my grand­mother.”

Davis con­tacted Dou­glas’ grand­mother, Car­letta Wil­liams, who raised him and his six sib­lings in the Kuzuri low-in­come apart­ment com­plex, and arranged a meet­ing in Davis’ of­fice at the East Or­ange Depart­ment of Re­cre­ation.

“At that time, I never en­vi­sioned him go­ing to the NFL,” Davis said dur­ing a lengthy tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion. “I told him, ‘I’m not go­ing to let you do it. I’m not go­ing to lose you to the streets. I’m go­ing to be on your case every day.’ ”

And Davis didn’t. And he was.

Davis fig­ured soon af­ter the meet­ing he was on his way to suc­ceed­ing when Dou­glas fol­lowed him on a bi­cy­cle as Davis walked past Kuzuri on the way to catch the bus home. Dou­glas wanted to en­sure Davis would be safe in an area pop­u­lar with gangs.

Six years later, the Ea­gles picked Dou­glas, a de­fen­sive back out of West Vir­ginia, in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Twen­tytwo months af­ter that, Dou­glas was a mem­ber of a Su­per Bowl-win­ning team.

Dou­glas has started 12 of 30 reg­u­lar-sea­son games in which he’s played with the Birds, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing 82 tack­les, in­clud­ing six for a loss, and five in­ter­cep­tions.

Dou­glas and the Ea­gles open the 2019 sea­son Sunday af­ter­noon against Washington.

“Ev­ery­thing is go­ing well,” Dou­glas said. “Still get­ting bet­ter. Still learn­ing.”

Dou­glas met Davis at the age of 9 when Davis was his Lit­tle League base­ball coach in East Or­ange, which is 4 miles north­west of Newark. Davis soon be­came more than Dou­glas’ coach.

Davis would take Dou­glas bowl­ing on Satur­days, to Nets games in North Jer­sey, as well as Yan­kees and Mets games. Davis, unof­fi­cially known as “The Voice of East Or­ange,” an­nounced the East Or­ange High School games, which Dou­glas and younger brother Tamir reg­u­larly at­tended. Dou­glas’ pre­ferred sport in those days was bas­ket­ball, which made earn­ing a signed Vince Carter jer­sey for being the best par­tic­i­pant at Carter’s camp quite an ac­com­plish­ment.

“You’ve got to keep them busy,” said Davis, who has been men­tor­ing and coach­ing at-risk East Or­ange youth for 33 years. “I had to keep him re­ally ac­tive to help him. So many kids get trapped.”

By the time he fig­ured out his fu­ture was in foot­ball, Dou­glas needed to go to Nassau County Com­mu­nity Col­lege in or­der to secure a full schol­ar­ship to a high-level pro­gram.

Since the school had no dorms, that meant liv­ing in an apart­ment 8 miles from cam­pus and tak­ing the bus. For meals, Dou­glas would or­der off of the dol­lar menu at McDon­ald’s, eat half of what he pur­chased and save the rest for later.

“From what I hear, that’s ev­ery­body in ju­nior col­lege,” Dou­glas said. “It was just a pe­riod of time when I was [think­ing] ‘I’ve got to get [to Di­vi­sion 1].’ To get [to] D1, it was just like a test. If you re­ally want it, you’ve got to starve. It was just: How much are you will­ing to sac­ri­fice to get there?”

Dou­glas’ sac­ri­fice paid off with a schol­ar­ship to West Vir­ginia, where he par­layed a strong se­nior year into his selec­tion by the Ea­gles.

Davis has been there every step of the way. He went to grad­u­a­tions, joined Dou­glas on draft night, was thanked by Dou­glas and called up on­stage at the cer­e­mony in which Dou­glas re­ceived the key to the city of East Or­ange in Au­gust 2018. Davis de­clined Dou­glas’ in­vi­ta­tion to the Su­per Bowl be­cause of a fear of fly­ing.

“He helped me a lot,” Dou­glas said. “Kept me off the streets when I was go­ing down the wrong path. [He kept me from] see­ing things I shouldn’t be see­ing.”

While Davis re­al­izes the im­pact he’s had on Dou­glas’ life, he stresses that Dou­glas made it hap­pen.

“He had the willpower to over­come so many chal­lenges,” Davis said. “It wasn’t about win­ning the Su­per Bowl — that was the whipped cream on top. I give him all the credit in the world. He al­ways wanted to achieve the high­est.

“He never gave up on any­thing. He al­ways pushed him­self hard. When you coach, you’re like a mes­sen­ger. It’s up to the kid. A lot are suc­cess­ful, but some didn’t turn out as well. It’s about that peer pres­sure.”

While an­nounc­ing the an­nual East Or­ange-Bar­ringer Thanks­giv­ing game in the wake of the gang close call, Davis will never for­get the text mes­sage he re­ceived from Dou­glas that brought tears to his eyes.

“Thank you for sav­ing my life,” Dou­glas texted him. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be in jail or dead.”

RON JENK­INS/AP

Ea­gles cor­ner­back Ra­sul Dou­glas, seen here pulling down an in­ter­cep­tion against the Dal­las Cow­boys last sea­son, has over­come many ob­sta­cles to reach the NFL.

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