Still only a junior, the Spirits linebacker has tons of potential
For most kids, figuring out what they want from life early on can be a challenge. With all the pressures to be affiliated with this club, or to hangout with that group, the struggles to find a place where you fit in these days are ever so complicated. However, when it comes to Paraclete’s standout linebacker Todd Davis, some will agree he got in where he fit in some time ago.
Playing in the Spirits program, the junior has excelled since he landed on 30th Street West three summers ago. Though, to understand where Davis developed the innate ability he possesses today, we have to go back six years.
At the encouragement of his aunt and uncle, Davis signed up for the Highland youth football with his cousin, Josh Clemons. When he entered the program as a fifth grader, he was already bigger than the kids his age. The obvious size difference put him at far greater of an advantage, so he was forced to play up with the junior and senior teams.
“It was good because it was hard,” he explained. “Those guys were seventh and eighth graders. It really pushed me. I knew I could play against those guys, who were older and more experienced if I played and practiced hard.”
For the next three seasons, Davis did just that. That is, until he had to take his game to the next level. As an eighth grader at Desert Christian, he was forced to make a big decision. Already a top up-and-coming talent in the Antelope Valley, he could have stayed and played for the Knights, or he could test himself against stronger and stiffer competition. He would choose the latter, but it came with one twist. He had to remain in a private school.
“My parents wanted to keep me in private schools,” Davis recalled. “I knew Paraclete had a good program with good coaches. That helped me make my choice.”
During the summer of 2006, Davis arrived on the campus full of promise and eager to catch the eye of the coaching staff. He wasted little time, when he started practicing with the varsity squad. But he was dealt a minor setback when he injured his leg. Upon his return, Davis would go onto play the majority of the year with the junior varsity. At the end of the regular season, he was awarded with lineman of the year honors.
Quite the challenge for a young freshman, no? Remember, that was only the regular season.
The varsity squad had challenging year under first year coach Norm Dahlia, but they squeaked into playoffs with a 5-4 record. Then, coach Dahlia called Davis up as the Spirits drew Santa Clara in the first round.
Paraclete would fall to the Saints 21-28, but the experience alone helped pave the way for the budding freshman.
“I thanked god that they had the confidence in me, that they believed in me, and that they felt I could be factor when I get out on that field,” he said about the varsity coaching staff that year. “I’m just really thankful.”
What Sophomore Jinx?
Davis returned for the 2007 season looking to build off his successful freshman campaign. After spending all summer working hard with the varsity, he was caught by surprise when he was named a starter.
“I didn’t know I was fighting for a starting position until a couple days before our first game,” Davis recalled. “Then, coach comes up and says, ‘hey, you got the starting spot.’ He really wanted to see what I had. And I think that took a lot of confidence for the staff to believe and trust in me.”
He admitted he was a little nervous at first, but Davis trusted in his ability and forged ahead.
“I was really nervous,” he said about the expectations early on. “But there was a point that I knew if I put my all into it, I wouldn’t have a reason to hold my head down.”
And he did just that. Davis went on to be a big part of the Spirits squad that went 12-1 last year. He finished with 83 total tackles, but caught everyone’s attention because he had a nose for sacks.
“It was great,” he said about the sacks. “But during the first four games, that wasn’t on my mind. I was just thinking about playing my best.”
You can call it blind ambition, but the fact that Davis was averaging a sack a game didn’t even set in until someone else told him about the feat.
“One of my friends actually came up to me and said, ‘hey I saw MaxPreps and you’re leading [the team] in sacks,” he said. “I didn’t believe it until I went to check it out for myself.”
Instead of gloating over his success, Davis went right back to work each week trying to improve.
“That became another big motivator for me,” he explained. “Now, I was not only looking to stop the other team’s offense, but I was also looking to get in that category too.”
To his credit, Davis ended his second year with a two-game sack streak, and led the defense with 11.
A star in the making
In the midst of his junior season, Davis has got off to a hot start. He’s been causing opposing offense’s headaches and literally forcing rival coaches to script their offense away from him. Regardless of personal effort, the team started off 0-3, and that weighed heavily on his mind.
Through the pain of defeat, another dimension started to emerge in is game. Instead of getting frustrated about the slow start, Davis found a lot of pride stepping up and leading by example throughout Paraclete’s winless streak.
“I think it’s important,” he explained. “When you get hyped up and do good things, it really gets the rest of the guys going.”
Though he hasn’t been listed as a captain to date, it was only a matter of time before players around him started following his lead.
“Then all of a sudden, everyone wants to make that big play too,” he added. “You start pushing everyone else and you got everyone playing harder. Now everyone is involved for the greater good of the team.”
Reiterating a team first mentality, the junior even made a personal sacrifice when the coaches asked to move him from defensive tackle to linebacker before the fourth game of the season.
“I was a bit thrown off and nervous beforehand because I haven’t played that position before,” he said. “I got two days of practice in, and then they start me there for the game [against Desert].”
A little apprehensive about starting a new position against a quick and agile runner in Desert High School’s quarterback Terrance Wells, Davis took it in stride and played an excellent game. He registered 15 tackles and a sack. But most of all, he was happy that the Spirits got their first win (a 26-0 shutout win nonetheless).
Davis was pleased about his performance against Desert because the pressure was on and the stakes were high, but he was more grateful that the win helped bring the team together.
“Looking at our first few games, we were eleven guys going out there and putting out our best, but we weren’t necessarily a family,” he explained. “As things kept going, we started to come together. I really think that’s what helped us find those wins.”
And for Davis’ move to linebacker, he has no one to thank but his teammates for the smooth transition.
“What they’re doing on the [defensive] line creates havoc,” he said. “If they make the running backs slow down to get around people, it makes my job ten times easier. Plus, playing with a guy like Swanny [Kyle Swanson], I know he’s going to do his job. That goes for the line too. I know Justin [Vargas], John [Pratt], Branden [Owen], and Lavonte [Barnett] are going to do work and do their jobs. With all that havoc on the line and Swanny next to me, I know there’s not too much I have to worry about in my area because everyone else has their areas covered.”
What about those sacks
With 9.0 sacks over the first six games, Davis extended his streak from last year to eight total games. He was a little worried about moving to linebacker, only because he’d be in coverage at times. But as he found out, the coaching staff wanted him to keep the pressure on. So the staff worked out schemes where he would be called on to blitz a lot.
“They told me the sacks were still important,” Davis said. “That pumped me because I get to go after the quarterback at full speed and hopefully with nothing in my way.”
Not much has stopped Davis, as he’s been able to chip away at the goal of 20 sacks he and his dad set this season. Though, after facing yet another spread offense from Whittier Christian last week, he saw his sack streak end against the Heralds. He’s not overly worried either, as long as he continues to improve.
“It would really be nice getting those 20 sacks,” he said. “But I think it will be okay, especially if I change for the better when it comes to my all around game.”
The coaches flirted with the idea of sending him back to the line, but they’ve been too busy signing his praises.
Regardless of where he ends up throughout the remainder of the season, Davis remains a bona fide threat to any team’s offense. And the rest of the Olympic League should take notice, because whether 20 is the magic number or not, he’s bound and determined to cause a ruckus in the process.
“These are the big ones that count for everything,” he added. “If we don’t win them, we can’t get into the playoffs.”
To college and beyond
It’s not that hard to look at Davis and realize he’s had a bright future ahead of him for quite sometime. Having matured and developed into an all-star at Paraclete, the next logical step for the young player is college. And it’s not out of the question either. Davis is also excelling in the classroom.
“Sports have also helped me keep my grades up,” he said. “I know I have to work just as hard in the classroom as I do on the field.
“My academics have also helped me on the field, because it has taught me to work harder to get things done. I mean I might have to stay up late after practice to get an essay done or get some extra homework done. It just pushes me to put in a little more effort to get past any obstacles I need to.”
Slowly but surely, Davis has been turning into a double-threat college recruit. Talent on the field is one thing, but if there is anything else a college coach loves to hear, it’s that a prospective athlete is also a good student.
“I actually think about college daily,” he explained. “I’m starting to think about the scheduling I’m going to have to do to balance things because of the demands of being a student athlete. There’s going to be classes to take, playing football, sometimes one to two practices a day, and homework.”
And for guidance off the field, he’s had his parents lead to follow. Both have college degrees, and both constantly stress the importance of academics.
“They talk to me about college everyday,” he said. “They remind the importance of keeping my grades up and because football is not always going to be there. They put things in perspective because they remind me that I have to have something to fall back on. That’s going to be my education.”
Thankfully, colleges are starting to get the whole picture on Davis. Even some Pac-10 teams are starting to take notice.
“It’s an awesome experience,” he said. “I mean, I’m living in Palmdale. So how are people in Washington contacting me? It’s really cool and it’s leaves you with a good feeling.”
Now, if he could only get that powerhouse Pac-10 program south of the Antelope Valley to take notice, everything would be set.
Until then he says, “I’m just going to have to step my game up, get smarter, stronger, and faster if I want to play at the next level.”
There’s no doubt he’ll rise up to the occasion.