Showing the way
Douglas credits mentor Davis for steering him in the right direction
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.”
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas, seen here pulling down an interception against the Dallas Cowboys last season, has overcome many obstacles to reach the NFL.