By Jerrell Richardson
Vernon Davis, TE #85
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Experience: 6 years
Vernon Davis is undeniably one of the greatest athletes in the NFL, and arguably the best at his position. His path to the top has been bumpy though, and for a while, Davis appeared to be just another player whose attitude problem would outweigh his talent and derail a promising NFL career.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Davis excelled at football, basketball and track, entering college in 2003 as the fourth best tight end in the country. In college he did not disappoint, as his career yards-per-catch average of 16.5 is ridiculous for a tight end. Just as impressive were the tales of him being the fastest player on his team — another feat unheard of for a player of his size and playing his position.
Perhaps it was his success at every level, but the man who the 49ers drafted sixth overall in 2006 entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. Davis admits that as a rookie he felt that it was all about him and not the team. For a player that had been the star and center of attention for so long, the adjustment to the NFL and team-first mentality was tough. Not helping his adjustment was that even with a string of injuries that limited his playing time, his impact on the field was clear. His very first reception was a 31-yard touchdown reception and later in his rookie campaign he showcased his speed and agility when turning a short pass into a 52-yard touchdown score. Without the learning curve that rookies normally go through, he skipped the humbling period that would have allowed him early on to realize he would need to put the needs of the team before his own.
Things changed for Davis in 2008, when under the guidance of Head Coach Mike Singletary, he got the message. After being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Seahawks, Davis was sent to the locker room in the middle of the game, inspiring Singletary’s famous “I want winners” speech. Although his time as the coach of San Francisco can be deemed uneventful at best, this one decision and rant by Singletary proved huge, as Davis points to that moment as sparking his mental adjustment.
With his new team-first attitude, Davis’ play on the field was taken to a new level. The next year he amassed 79 catches for 965 yards, 13 touchdowns, and turned into a great blocker. Since then his numbers have evened out due to the talent around him, but he remains their best blocking tight end, and the number-one target of quarterback Alex Smith, as shown by his impact in last year’s postseason. Against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, Davis broke the record for receiving yards by a tight end in a playoff game with his 166 yards. He scored a total of four touchdowns in San Francisco’s two postseason games.
Davis’ impact is just as big off the field, where along with his brother Vontae Davis, who is a member of the Indianapolis Colts, he has formed the Davis Family Foundation to benefit under-served communities. He has also been involved with Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy, Pros For Africa and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and several other charities.
One of his passions, surprisingly, is curling. In 2010 he was the honorary captain to the Men’s Olympic Curling team, and has hosted, “Curling For the Stars,” an event benefiting his charity.
Vernon Davis went from a guy with a world of talent who only thought about himself to the ultimate team player. This attitude spills out into his personal life, where he takes time to help out those who are less fortunate. Sometimes it takes tough love to get someone to realize their true potential. Very few would think that after being sent to the locker room in the middle of the game that Vernon Davis would turn into the player and man that those in his community would call a role model, but that is exactly what he has done.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.