Ryan Davis had one opportunity to make something with his football dreams and he did. Bethune-Cookman College was his only scholarship offer and instead of worrying or wondering, he put his head down and charged. Four years and a MEAC Defensive Player of the Year award later, he found himself in Jacksonville at the beginning of a seven-year journey through the NFL.
Now, seven seasons removed from his final season with the Jaguars, he finds himself with another opportunity to do even more with those football dreams through the Jaguars Legends program. Davis is headed to Indianapolis for the NFL & NCAA Coaches Academy where he will network to build connections and work on developing the leadership skills that could catapult his young coaching career.
“I was so happy when I got that call. I had a huge smile on my face,” Davis recalled. “It’s another opportunity, you know? Just getting onto an NFL roster was tough, making it and then finding a way back is tough, too. A lot of people ask; ‘why aren’t you coaching college football?’ Coaching is a process and I’m going through it, and I reach out to people and some things might not be available when I want them. So, I just keep going and pushing the envelope and then the Jags call and here I am.”
Davis isn't a long shot any longer. He attacked the opportunity to coach the defensive line at Raines High School with the same energy and passion that made him an important player for Gus Bradley's defense from 2013 through 2015. When Bradley's team finally started winning late in 2013, it was Davis who had an interception and a critical sack that guaranteed two wins in a four-game stretch. He knew he belonged then, just like he knows he belongs now.
"I wasn't a five-star guy or even a drafted player, but that didn't really matter," he said. "I had to cut my teeth wherever I went in order to get where I wanted to go. You don't get very far without a passion for the game and plan. I'm still that guy now, as someone who wants to coach, as I was when I was that guy who wanted to play. Nothing has changed except where I line up."
He's taking small steps towards the big goal of coaching on Sunday afternoons. It began last fall on a high school field on the north side of Jacksonville with a group of young men. For now, his job is to develop young men and then football players. He's all in on that mission.
"I work with Coach Wayne, our offensive line coach at Raines, and he looks out for those kids," Davis explained. "We want to win every Friday night but that isn't the most important thing we're doing. We know some kids might not go to college or not be able to play football beyond high school and there is life after the game. That's what I love about the family at Raines. We look out for them and help them, and I feel like that's important."
Ryan speaks with a gleam in his eye when he talks about his kids at Raines. He knows the impact he can have and embraces his role.
“They ask me a lot of questions and you can tell, you know, they’re listening,” Davis explained. “And it’s cool answering their questions because you know they want to compare; they want to know if they can make it too. There’s no secret recipe, you know, I tell them they can have more than what I had if they’re willing to do what I did. I lay it out for them, they listen, and they appreciate it too.”
He's proud of his new direction and is enjoying the ride that many of his former teammates are on as well.
"I ran into Roy (Miller) at the Jaguars' Seven on Seven (tournament) in St. Augustine last summer," he said. "He's part of the staff at Providence that has a bunch of former players on it. That's cool to see and they did some good things this season. During Alumni Weekend, I ran into some guys who are coaching in their hometowns, and we compared notes and stories. This game gets in your blood and it's so tough to walk away from it. I can learn from all those guys just like I did in the defensive line room back when I was playing. I can use it all to help my career."
The Vikings of Raines High School wear cardinal red and silver, so does their defensive line coach, but the teal runs deep in Davis. He's loving the experience on the sidelines and enjoying the resurgence of his beloved Jaguars, his first shot at the big time and the franchise that is sending him to what he hopes will be his second shot at the NFL.
"I was having heart palpitations watching the playoff game," Davis said with a laugh. "So, yeah, I'm connected to everything that is going on down there. They have their franchise quarterback and the right head coach with the right system. The momentum is rolling now and it's fun. Somebody told me a long time ago that this is a great city and it's even better when the Jaguars are winning. I'm excited to be where I am right now, but I won't lie, their success has me focused on the success I want to have and where I want to be someday."
The next step comes when he walks through the doors of the NFL & NCAA Coaching Academy later this month. Don't be surprised when Davis uses that opportunity like he did his lone scholarship opportunity to Bethune-Cookman all those years ago.