For many NFL players, most start at a young age being the best on their teams.
As kids, they are looked at as having incredible talent and are playing at levels far above their peers.
They blow away the competition and make things look easy on the field. However, there comes a point in time where this does not last forever.
Top high school players move on to the collegiate level and face people with talents similar or better than their own. These players are then faced with the challenge of whether they can take the next step, or lose confidence in their abilities and fade into the background. For a certain safety out of Florida, the latter almost became a reality.
In the next installment of "Rookie Files" here on Horseshoe Huddle, we take a look at the journey of Shawn Davis and how believing in himself and his abilities helped lead him to the opportunity of a lifetime.
Special from the Start
Davis was born and raised in Miami, Fla. From a young age, he showed he had plenty of talent and was a natural at the game of football. When living in a football state like Florida, that puts plenty of people on notice.
Davis started to generate buzz for himself even at the Pop Warner level. He became one of the top players for the Palmetto Bay Broncos, a Pop Warner team known for their talent with four national championships.
The hype continued from there when he entered high school. Davis enrolled at Southridge Senior High School in Miami where coaches started him on the junior varsity team as a freshman. That didn’t last long.
Davis impressed immediately and coaches took notice, realizing he was making far too many plays to be stuck on the JV team. They had no choice but to move him up to varsity and their decision paid off. Davis continued his playmaking as he tallied four interceptions in four games in 2013.
Davis firmly established himself as one of the best players on Southridge just as he did for Palmetto Bay. His junior year he recorded 27 tackles to go along with 2 interceptions, which catapulted him into a senior year filled with both personal and team success. He ended his career at Southridge with a Class 8A state championship and First-Team All-State honors.
After a stellar high school career, Davis was ready to play at the next level. He was a three-star recruit and had scholarship offers from dozens of schools around the country. Big-time programs such as Alabama, LSU, and even his hometown team of Miami all wanted Davis for their team.
In the end, it came down to Miami and Florida, with Davis deciding to leave his hometown and head to Gainesville to be a Gator. Having the chance to play for head coach Jim McElwain and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray helped in the decision, as Davis now looked to continue his fantastic play in the SEC.
A Loss in Confidence, but Not in Fight
His entire life Davis had been one of the best players on the team. The game came easy to him and he was able to dominate his opponent. Now at the collegiate level, things were about to get much more difficult.
In the first quarter of his very first college game against Michigan, Davis was put in at safety. Davis lost sight of the receiver that had entered his zone and gave up a huge touchdown. Florida lost 33-17 that day, and things didn’t get any better for Davis.
He played sparingly the rest of his freshman year, only notching 11 tackles with 0 interceptions as he mostly saw limited action on special teams. The team finished 4-7 on the year, and the coaching staff was fired after the season.
Davis had never found himself in this position before. Playing great football on winning teams was what he was used to and his freshman year at Florida caused quite a loss in confidence. It was going to take a lot of fight and a support system around him to get it back.
Luckily for Davis, he received exactly that. Starting with his parents, they knew he had the talent and could get the job done, he just had to believe in himself. Simple text messages before games of "Have a great game" and encouragement after games went a long way in building his confidence back up.
Another key in rebuilding his confidence was his safeties coach Ron English. English is known for not sugarcoating things and telling it like it is. Players respect his honesty and know that he has their best interest at heart, wanting more than anything for them to reach their full potential.
Davis credited both parties for being huge influences on getting his confidence back when speaking with The Athletic in 2019.
“Just really Coach (English), he just bashes in our head, he knows that we can be big-time players, so we got to act like it and play like it all the time,” Davis said. “My parents, they motivate me, they are there every time. I know that I’m getting older, so I just got to play at an older-guy level, knowing that young guys are looking at me.
“I feel like the confidence boost that came from that was, they saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself. It made me feel like, ‘Oh, since they see it in me, I have to play to a higher level.’”
With help from those around him and belief in himself, Davis began to regain his confidence. After missing the first four games of his sophomore year, Davis received more time as a reserve yet was able to contribute with 5 pass deflections and 2 tackles for loss.
As a junior, Davis finally entered the starting lineup and the playmaking ability that he was known for at Southridge began to show once again. He racked up 51 tackles to go along with 3 interceptions and 6 pass deflections. His senior year was much of the same with a team-leading 2 interceptions, 3 pass deflections, and 40 tackles all while missing the last five games of the season due to injury.
He had proven that he did belong, and became the leader of the Florida secondary. After playing at the Senior Bowl and displaying the leadership and playmaking ability he possesses, he was too intriguing to pass up for the Indianapolis Colts, as they selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
How Davis Helps the Colts
Davis is joining a Colts safety group that is full of young talent.
Julian Blackmon burst onto the scene as a rookie playmaker whom the Colts think has All-Pro potential. Khari Willis is one of the smartest and most underrated defenders on the team with an incredible football IQ and nose for the football. Even George Odum, the special teams ace who earned First-Team All-Pro honors last year, can be thrown in at either safety spot and produce.
For Davis, he brings a football IQ that coaches love. General manager Chris Ballard gave him high remarks, comparing Davis to where Willis was in terms of football IQ when Willis was a rookie. This will help him grasp things quickly.
Davis is a rangy and twitchy athlete that can cover a lot of ground quickly. He also has a nose for the ball and creating turnovers, as seen by his 5 interceptions in 19 games during his final two seasons at Florida.
There are times where Davis can sometimes struggle with covering guys who are bigger and faster than he is. He can also sometimes whiff on tackles, but that is something that he has cleaned up each year and will continue to work on at the next level.
Overall, Davis is a safety prospect that can come in and immediately contribute on special teams while providing a solid backup option for the Colts. He is a smart player, known to be very coachable, and a hard worker. All indications are he will fit into the Colts’ culture very easily.
A dramatic loss in confidence could have cost Davis the shot at his career. Instead, he looks to continue building that confidence and proving that he deserves a long career in the NFL.
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