With his pearly whites shining and eyes lit up with emotion, Vernon Davis' personality and obvious love for life are infectious.
And that smile, visible from miles away, seems to shine the brightest when he is talking about being a member of the Washington Redskins. After living in Washington, D.C. and spending 10 seasons in the NFL, Davis made sure to take advantage of every moment he's played for his hometown team this past season, both on and off the field.
Washington D.C. Is Home
Growing up in Washington, D.C. had its difficulties for Davis and he experienced a lot from a very early age. He found himself in trouble often based on the group he was spending time with and was first arrested in just sixth grade. That was followed up with a second arrest just a year or so later, which resulted in him being placed on probation.
But probation ended up being a wake-up call. Davis realized that things needed to change, especially for his grandmother, who raised him and his siblings, allowing them to stay together as a family.
"The support and love that she gave me and my siblings was unparalleled. You couldn't replace it for anything," Davis said. "Just knowing that and feeling that you wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to do the right thing for her because I knew, at that moment, in order to make it in life and achieve the goals that I set forth, I had to listen to my grandmother and I wanted to make her proud because of all the hard work and dedication she gave to us, raising us, it was only right. It was the right thing to do and I could feel it in my spirit and I attribute that to my grandmother."
The rest of his path came together when his goal of becoming a basketball player didn't quite work out. While he had always had it in the back of his mind that if his first sport of choice didn't lead him where he wanted to go, football would be a sport he could easily succeed in, basketball was still the first choice. But when he started at Dunbar High School, the basketball team already had five starters, so he soon realized that wasn't going to be an option for him.
"I knew right away that in order to make it anywhere you have to be a starter, you have to be the best right now, Davis said. "So I try out for the football team, walk on, that year, tenth grade, I just blossomed."
Blossomed somehow seems to be a bit of an understatement. Davis' didn't just succeed at playing football (he was a tight end and a safety), he became one of the top recruits in the country.
Rivals.com rated Davis as a four-star player and the fourth best tight end in the recruitment class of 2003. He was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year for the District of Columbia. The list of accolades went on and on.
His reasons for attending the University of Maryland to continue his football career showed a lot of who Davis is as a person. His confidence in himself, knowing that he would be drafted at the professional level and find a place in the NFL, and his love for his family.
"I went to Maryland because I wanted to stay close because I knew that I believed in my heart and I had faith I was going to get drafted," Davis said. "And once I get drafted I'll be somewhere else and it worked out that way. I believed and it happened."
A Remarkable NFL Career
His prediction came true when he was taken sixth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Fast forward 10 years, two NFL teams and two Super Bowl appearances later, and Davis was going through the murky waters of free agency when he received a call inviting him to come visit the DMV.
"To come back here is like a dream come true," Davis said. "I remember when I first got the call to come on a visit here, I started to shed tears because I was just so elated that this may be an opportunity to play football for the Washington Redskins and just couldn't pass up on that."
Playing for the Redskins, Davis emerged once again as an extremely viable threat at tight end behind Jordan Reed. With Reed dealing with various injuries, Davis had opportunities to start at the position, scoring his first touchdowns since the 2014 season and surpassing his receiving yard totals from 2014 and 2015.
While playing the sport he loves in his hometown is a unique experience, part of why it means so much to Davis goes far beyond the actual playing of the sport itself. The experiences he has had with his family and the community have been important to him in terms of what impact he hopes to make on the people that still live in the area that he grew up in.
Part of that effort has come in his foundation, the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts, which he established in reflection of his own love for art. He fully realized his passion when he switched from being a criminal justice major to studio art his sophomore year at Maryland. Being an artist or a musician was not something that was "cool" when he was growing up, leaving him not being able to realize his other passion until college.
The goal of the Foundation is to "promote art education and art appreciation amongst youth from disadvantaged backgrounds." It focuses on doing this through scholarships and holding events where he has been able to raise thousands of dollars. But more importantly to Davis, he is helping change the stigma of what passions kids can be following.
"I've envisioned cities where art can be vital to social development and you're able to touch the lives of others," Davis said. "Let the kids know at an early age that they don't have to do this or that, they can be different, they can dare to be different and just change the course of the environment and the culture. Because I've found when you're growing up in an African-American (area), it's cool to play basketball, it's cool to play football, you're popular when you have the newest pair of Michael Jordan shoes or Nikes, but it's not alright to be an artist. It's not alright to be a musician. People look at you differently, so I couldn't pursue the things I wanted to pursue as a kid.
"I wanted to, it was always there in my heart, but it wasn't until I arrived at the University of Maryland where I felt like I could just open my mind and expand my horizons and then it just took off. I was able to dream big and just do the things that I never imagined myself doing. It all makes sense to create the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts so that I could reach these kids at an early age and inspire them to be different."
While in Washington D.C., Davis has also taken the time to learn and give back specifically to the community he grew up around. One of the things he took part in was sleeping outside on the streets of the city for a night. A foundation called the Covenant House raises money towards people sleeping outside for one night and experience how it feels to be homeless. After participating, Davis showed up the following morning to practice feeling like he had experienced something truly unique and important.
Check out images of tight end Vernon Davis during his first few months with the Washington Redskins.
"Being able to sleep out on the streets and experience that first-hand was life changing," Davis said. "I now know what these homeless people are going through when they decide to sleep out on the streets and they don't have anywhere to go and they don't have clothes on their back and just trying to stay warm. That was quite an experience, probably one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had."
Part of what made that experience so special to Davis was because of knowing what life might have been like for him if he had not been raised by his grandmother and instead was forced to be separated from his siblings. It could have been him out there for more nights than just one.
Davis is also one of many players who has publicly committed to helping the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation in its effort to introduce the Redskins FITT initiative alongside D.C. Public Schools and the American Diabetes Association. The program encourages seventh-grade stuidents to live a healthy lifestyle and to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. Speaking on behalf of the prgram at a press conference in December, Davis expressed why being involved was so personal to him.
"With this Redskins FITT program, I feel like it's imperative the D.C. public school system implements this because it can be vital for the kids, and the kids can go home and share this with their families and they can make a huge impact in their household," Davis said. With this program, based on everything the Redskins are doing, I feel like it's very interactive, they'll have fun with it."
Davis has made sure to get this message across in more ways this one, including a video he made over the offseason.
At age 33, Davis still expects to play for years to come. In fact, joining the team has sparked a revitalization in how he feels about playing football.
"I just continue to be optimistic, keep playing football and having fun and falling in love with the game all over again," Davis said. "I feel like the older I get the better I get. I feel like I'm just starting, I'm just getting started. I can still run. I tell everyone the same thing: when I lose my speed then I'll hang it up. But I still have my speed. I can still run, run well. With that, I can continue to play this game."
But after his time playing the game is over?
Then the plan is to move onto the next phase of his career, possibly back on the other side of the country closer to where his NFL career started. Acting and being on television has become a goal of his. In fact, look out for Davis making an appearance in the new Baywatch movie coming out later in 2017.
For now, however, not only is Davis making an impact and getting to fulfill a dream he never thought would turn into reality, but he also just finished a very strong season.
Filling in for and alongside Reed, Davis cropped up as one of the best tight ends in the NFL still. Despite being in his 11th season, Davis finished the year with 44 catches for 583 yards and two touchdowns.
And one moment that seemed to bring it all together was when he scored a touchdown in the win at FedExField over Minnesota in Week 10 and got to celebrate with an extra special guest -- his brother, Colts cornerback Vontae Davis, who was able to come to the game with his team on a bye.
"That was pretty amazing," Davis said. "My brother, he'd never been to a Redskins game never ever, probably played here, but he never sat in the stands, so having him there like right behind us and celebrating with him ..."
After a pause he decides there is only one word to describe the experience.