COLLINS, MS (WDAM) - “At one point, I hit a running back into Demario [Davis] and I didn’t realize I had hit a wall,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. “He’s a savage.”
On the football field, Demario Davis’ job is to put people on the ground.
Off the field, Davis uplifts and inspires those around him.
“He’s got a certain swagger about him the way he walks,” said Sammy Dantone, who coached Davis at Brandon Middle School.
“Demario’s one of those phenomenal guys that just never gave up,” said Jarrad Craine, a former teammate that played wide receiver alongside Davis at Brandon High.
It started as merely a dream.
McLaurin Street in Collins, Mississippi is where Davis first held a football. When Davis was just six years old, his cousin Steve McNair was drafted in the NFL by the Houston Oilers.
The cousin who grew up in the same Covington County, just 12 miles north of Collins in Mount Olive.
“They always played football in the yard, in the street, he and his cousins,” said Hope Magee Jones, one of Davis’ aunts and the mayor of Collins. “They’d mimic a lot of the football players or the ones that they admired.”
“I can still remember when we were going out to practice,” said Skyler Parker, a former teammate of Davis’ at Brandon. “I’m like, ‘What’re you going to do after high school?’ He said, ‘I’m going to play in [the] NFL.’”
The dream was real. Yet, Davis had no idea the obstacles before him.
A move to Brandon in second grade eventually turned into three years of high school football – but not many colleges seemed to notice Davis.
The switch from wide receiver to linebacker his senior season caught the eyes of Arkansas State scouts.
“I guess you’d say under everybody’s radar for some reason or another,” said Dan Davis, the former head coach of Brandon football. “Not under ours, we were trying to tell everybody, ‘Y’all are messing up. This guy can play.’”
“I think I’ve always been an underdog or sorts, kind of counted out or looked over,” Demario said. “All that has ever did is motivate me and given me more ambition and more drive.”
A college scholarship earned him one step closer to the NFL. At one time a shy kid, the 19-year-old Demario strolled his college campus with confidence.
But the freshman was quickly slammed back down to Earth when he got arrested for stealing groceries at a Walmart.
“I looked back at my mom and that’s the first time in my life that she looked at me and it was a look like, ‘There’s nothing I can do son,’” Demario recalled the incident as he spoke to a group at Southern Miss in 2016. “There was only about 20 feet between us but it felt like a gap that was so wide.”
The day that changed Demario’s life created an All-Sun Belt conference linebacker, a 2012 NFL Draft pick of the New York Jets and the leading tackler for the 2018 New Orleans Saints.
If you watch tape of No. 56 this season, you’ll see what truly changed for Demario that 2008 summer in Arkansas.
He poses like Jesus on the cross - a subtle salute to the man Demario’s devoted his life to.
“I’m not the exception because of the choices I made,” Demario said. “I’m the exception because I think God just had a special hand in protection over me. I’m grateful to God for the platform that I have. I’m just trying to use that platform in a positive way - one that brings glory to the Kingdom and makes my city and my community proud.”
In effort to help young people dodge the same obstacles he had to endure, Demario founded the “Devoted Dreamers Foundation” in 2018. For the last seven seasons, Demario has operated the “Devoted Dreamers Academy,” which helps kids in underprivileged communities find the resources needed to be successful in life and their careers.
The academy includes financial literacy classes, reading classes, ACT prep, how to prepare for college applications, job applications and peer pressure.
Demario Davis has recorded 693 tackles in seven NFL seasons - but he’s changed the lives of countless kids.
Kids that grew up in small Mississippi towns with big dreams. Kids like Demario Davis.
“I think God gives certain people gifts,” Dan Davis said. “He always had that little spirit inside of him that said, ‘I want to see people pleased. I want to help. You can’t have a better trait than that.”