San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a game-changer who embodies the ethos of leadership both on and off the field. Picked 6th overall in the 1st round of the 2006 NFL Draft out of the University of Maryland, Vernon had already been an All-American football star in high school and a multi-award winner setting records for speed, strength and receptions.
In advance of draft day, he ran the 40-yard dash in the fastest time ever for a tight end. And at the time of his signing. he became the highest paid tight end in NFL history.
Ever a record breaker, Davis is a two-time team captain and a two-time Pro Bowl player who helped lead the 49ers to this year’s playoffs. He is also the recipient of the Len Eshmont Award as the club’s most inspirational player and in 2009 tied the NFL’s single-season TD record for tight ends with 13.
Born in Washington, D.C., on January 31, 1984, Vernon was raised in a rough ‘hood by a doting grandmother he credits with helping him navigate the shoals of that treacherous terrain. Unflappable in her commitment to raise Davis and his younger siblings (4 sisters and 2 brothers) with her values of hard work and integrity, she never let them stray from her careful watch during their formative years.
Davis also found enrichment in afterschool programs, which involved sports and ultimately led him to pursue a career in professional football. He served as a mentor to his younger brother, Vontae, a cornerback for the Miami Dolphins who was also a first round draft pick, making the Davis members of an exclusive club of brothers who have played in the NFL.
A philanthropist off the field, Vernon represented the NFL by traveling to Afghanistan to spend time with U.S. troops on the invitation of the USO. Last year, he traveled with his brother to Uganda and Rwanda on a mission with PROS FOR AFRICA.
Together, they oversee the Vernon and Vontae Davis Family Foundation which benefits a number of community-based charities, including the A.R.T. Ambassador Youth Program and the Sound Body Sound Mind Football Academy which provides scholarships to deserving inner-city athletes along with academic instruction, health, nutrition, life skills counseling and college mentors.
Here, he talks about life and about his team’s prospects as the 49ers enter the playoffs.
Vernon Davis: Hi, Kam, thanks for speaking with me.
KW: Congrats on a very successful 2011 season with the 49ers. You guys not only won your division but earned a bye the first week in the playoffs. Do you think the team will make it to the Superbowl?
VD: Yes! Everyone on our team is very motivated, especially given where we’ve come from and what we’ve been through in the past.
KW: As a tight end, you have to both block and catch passes. Which do you enjoy doing more?
I like both, but I’d have to say I like catching passes more because of the thrill of it. Don’t get me wrong, I like helping guys in the passing game, too.
KW: Tell me, what it feels like to score a touchdown in a packed stadium in front of thousands of fans?
VD: There’s nothing like going out on the field on a Sunday and making plays in front of a large audience of fans and having them cheer for you. You can hear the cheers and then again you can’t because you’re in the moment and you’ve just scored a touch-down. You’ve just beaten someone. And to be good at something you’re so competitive about is a feeling you can’t explain.
KW: Precious few pairs of siblings have been able to make it to the NFL. I can think of Eli and Peyton Manning and Tiki and Ronde Barber. What do you attribute your and Vontae’s success to? Your genes? Luck? Hard work? Good coaching?
VD: I’d have to say hard work. We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are today. And nothing comes easily in terms of success. If you want success, you have to work hard at it and realize that it takes time; it doesn’t come to you overnight. I was just speaking with my little cousin on the telephone who wants to be a singer and she was upset and a little discouraged because she wants to be a singer and it’s not happening yet. But what I told her is that instead of being upset, you should be practicing, because the harder you work the more successful you’ll become. All my life, I’ve worked hard knowing that someone else is out there is trying to outwork me. So, I’d be out there on Christmas and during winter breaks. That’s how I’ve kept my edge.
KW: Bernadette Beekman observed that you and your brother do a lot of charity work. She’d like to know which gives you the most satisfaction.
VD: Giving back and trying to create opportunities that will be advantageous to kids in the future. When I was a kid, I didn’t get to meet role models from the NFL or the NBA. So it means a lot to me to put a smile on their faces by showing up.
KW: You launched a design company last year, Modern Class Design. What are your future plans with it?
VD: To take it to a whole new level with urban renewal projects. I look at this business venture as an opportunity to give back and build my brand at the same time. At the end of the day, what could be better than making a great living and making a big difference?
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
VD: Hmmm…. I’ve gotta think about that.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
VD: The only time I really get afraid is when something is affecting my family. But even then, I start to think about the Bible and the passage that says “you should fear no one, fear no man, but only God,” and I feel better.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
VD: Yes, I’m happy. I wake up each and everyday happy because of all of the great things that I have going on in my life and I think about all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon me. I don’t think about the past, I only think about the present because what I do today sets me up for the future.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
VD: About an hour ago. I was joking with one of my buddies who was walking my dog. He saw my teammate Delanie Walker whose jaw is wired from a football injury, and my friend thought Delanie couldn’t talk, so he didn’t talk to him. But Delanie can talk and the whole thing was funny to all of us!
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
VD: 4 months of Biblical passages in Our Daily Bread.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
VD: “Boo Thang” by Verse Simmons.
KW: What is your favorite meal to cook?
VD: Baked chicken, broccoli and mashed potatoes
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
VD: Watching highlights of my plays the day before a game.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
VD: Louis Vuitton.
KW: Dante Lee, author of Black Business Secrets, asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
VD: The best business decision was getting involved in my interior design company and the worst was putting money into a casino.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
VD: I see an image of me, Vernon Davis, someone who works hard, is determined, self-motivated and wants to succeed in everything he does and is a genuinely loving person.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
VD: To meet with President Obama
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
VD: Learning how to tie my shoes.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
VD: I don’t know…
KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?
VD: My grandmother.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
VD: A great work ethic.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
VD: Be a leader, not a follower. Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot be. Always follow your heart and have faith in yourself and believe in the Lord and He will believe in you.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
VD: I’d like to be remembered as one of the best tight ends to ever play the game.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Vernon, and best of luck with the rest of the football season.
VD: Thanks, Kam. I wish you the best as well.