Davarez Bryant wasn’t supposed to be sitting on an airplane this past weekend, on his way to an official football recruiting visit to Purdue University.
A couple of years ago, no one would have ever mistaken the trouble-bound youngster for a college-bound student, let alone a college football prospect.
He didn’t even play football. Heck, he rarely even went to school.
If you asked Olivia Bryant two months ago what she thought the future held for her only son, her answer would have been littered with more questions. All she really hoped for was a high-school diploma.
“He was skipping school and smoking weed and hanging out with the wrong crowd. ... I had to get a judge involved to get him back in public school,” Olivia Bryant said. “He got suspended and expelled from New Smyrna. He spent two years at Calvary Christian and another private school, and I had to pay a lot of money to get him in there. He was at Richard Milburn Academy and got in trouble there too. But we got him back into public school at New Smyrna.”
Davarez Bryant seems to get it now.
Perhaps it was something his father said last spring before he died. Perhaps it was some of the things his father did before he died.
Michael Jerome Moore fell victim to a gunshot wound last May in a case that Crestview police have closed as an “accidental shooting.” Moore, a known drug dealer in the Pensacola area, was a master at getting in trouble, yet between the wrongs, he had always preached to his son to do right.
This fall, Davarez Bryant finally decided to take his father’s advice. He decided to give football a try when practice started at New Smyrna Beach High. He had no idea how much his life was about to change.
He already played basketball, so that was helping the 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior focus on the importance of keeping his grades up so he could remain eligible. But with the size that the young Bryant had started to show, his father told him he should be playing football.
“It’s crazy. It really is,” Bryant said last month about how he had picked up football and was already starting to gain the notice of college recruiters as a defensive end for the Barracudas.
New Smyrna Beach coach Lance Jenkins said a few games into the season, “The kid is a specimen, but he still does have a lot to learn in this game.”
Bryant is a key reason the 'Cudas are off to a 6-0 start, which will be put to test Thursday night at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium in a pivotal Class 6A, District 9 battle.
“It’s going real good. I really like it,” Bryant said. “I wish I had played in my previous years, but I didn’t really think I would get into it like the way I have. I never thought I’d be in the situation I’m in right now.”
Neither did his mom. She's beginning to realize she's going to have to fit football into her busy schedule. She works 40 hours a week as an executive housekeeper at a Daytona Beach resort, and then she also puts in 30 more hours working her own cleaning service on the side.
"I'm trying to get someone to work for me so I can attend on Thursday," she said of the Seabreeze game. "I haven’t been able to attend a lot of football games he’s been playing because I work two jobs, but they keep me up on it during the games. People text me when they score a touchdown and let me know what Davarez is doing. They keep me in touch."
She wasn't even too keen on this football stuff in the beginning.
"It was like all of the sudden. He called me one day and said, 'Mom, I'm going to play football.' I said, 'I don't know about all that,' and then he said, 'No, I'm going to play,' " said mom, who was quite used to her son talking back. "Then he came home from practice and said, 'I like it.'
"I was was out of town when he called a few weks later and said he got some letters from the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns or something like that, and I was like, 'Um, OK.' ... then all these letters started coming in. Since then every day we get a mailbox full of stuff."
Since finding football, Davarez is seeing what other things lie ahead if he can keep his eye on the prize. Those things became more obvious this past weekend during his visit — along with teammte James Clark — to West Lafayette, Ind., a trip which involved his first airplane flight. He said the ride was “kind of scary at first, but it was all right.”
Bryant also has an official scholarship offer from East Carolina, with plenty more to likely come if the current pace of interest continues. He currently has 17 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Not overshelming stats, but not too shabby for a novice footballer.
He's also been on unofficial recruiting trips to Gainesville for the Florida-LSU game and Orlando for the UCF-Missouri game.
“I’m just very surprised cause about a year ago I would never have thought this would have happened," said Olivia Bryant. "He’s really just lucky to be back in public school. His dad passed and I think it opened his eyes to a lot of things. lt was a bad thing, but a good thing.”
Davarez thinks about his father every day. Regardless of Michael Jerome Moore’s shortcomings, he was still Davarez Bryant’s father. It still makes Davarez proud that he took his father’s advice and joined the New Smyrna Beach football team. Proud, too, that he is no longer following in his dad’s footsteps yet making his own tracks.
“I knew my father very well. ... It kills me every day when I think about it,” says Davarez Bryant, who had relocated with his mother from the Panhandle area to New Smyrna seven years ago. “Sometimes I just shut down, and I just start crying. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
But he also realizes he never would have played football had his father not suggested it back in April.
“This is probably all for him right now. ... Everything that’s happening to me right now is probably all for him."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun