Isaiah Davis-Allen's mother is never far from his heart.
Davis-Allen, a sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder for the Maryland men's lacrosse team, has a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on the left side of his chest, and he has dedicated the tattoo to his mother, Audrey Davis, who died from lung cancer in 2013.
"I always keep my mom with me," he said. "For me, it's special to keep her right by my heart."
Davis-Allen, 20, is a two-year starter for the No. 3 Terps (8-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten Conference), who welcome Penn State (3-6, 0-1) to Byrd Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m.
He scored two goals — the first of his career — in Sunday's 13-4 rout of Michigan in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Each goal set off a wild celebration among his teammates.
With his father, Frank Allen, working out of the country frequently, Davis-Allen has been brother and parent to his 15-year-old sister, Josephine, an emerging soccer player at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va.
He took on that role when his mother was diagnosed in April 2013. The cancer spread quickly in Audrey Davis' body, weakening her and forcing her to be hospitalized. Davis-Allen spent as much time as he could at the hospital, but said his mother demanded he enjoy his senior year at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria.
"Every time I would try to skip a game or a practice just to spend time with her, she would tell me that I have to be at practice for her to get chemo," he recalled. "I think she kept me focused on school, focused on making sure that my sister was getting to [soccer] practice and stuff. I give her all the credit for that."
Andrew Taibl, his coach at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes, said teachers offered to extend due dates on homework and reschedule exam times to accommodate Davis-Allen's schedule at the hospital. Taibl said he gave Davis-Allen permission to skip practices, but with a few exceptions, Davis-Allen declined to accept any concessions.
"If you know Isaiah, you know that's the way he is," Taibl said. "He's a strong person physically and emotionally, and you can see it in the way he competes. ... It didn't surprise me that he wanted to continue handling all of his responsibilities the way he was accustomed to doing it. At the same time, he's a teenage kid and we were all worried about his well-being and his family. So there was a little bit of surprise — not that he didn't take it, but how he handled it. … It's really a testament to the type of young man that he is and how he went through that whole process."
During his mother's illness, Davis-Allen leaned on his aunt, Claire Davis, who took three weeks off from running her executive recruiting company in Springfield, N.J., to tend to her sister and godchildren.
"I saw a tremendous amount of maturity that I had not seen before," said Davis, who has attended every Terps game on the East Coast as part of a promise to her younger sister. "Because my sister got sick so suddenly, he basically said to her, 'Mom, you have to go to the hospital.' My sister wasn't even going to go. She was throwing up, diarrhea and everything. … I saw a kid who was grace under pressure."
On May 20, Davis-Allen scored the game-winning goal in the Saints' 7-5 victory over Landon to help the school capture its first Interstate Athletic Conference tournament championship. Eight days later, Davis-Allen, who was in southern Virginia for a senior project, got a call from his father urging him to return home as quickly as possible.
Davis-Allen caught the first plane back to Washington, D.C., but his mother died five minutes before he arrived at the hospital. Audrey Davis was 46.
"That was tough, but my high school coaches came maybe 15 minutes after I got to the hospital," he said. "I got a call from [Maryland] coach [John] Tillman, and he came, too. It was tough, but I had a lot of guys that had my back at the time. So that was important."
Tillman recalled how impressed he was with Davis-Allen's poise and character at his lowest moment.
"To me, that's one of the hardest things a young person could go through," Tillman said. "Just the strength that he had and the fact that he was very concerned about his sister and really tried to focus on being a good older brother in supporting her, to me it just says a lot about who Isaiah is. We're very proud to have him representing our program and wearing our Maryland jersey."
In addition to the tattoo, Davis-Allen wears a white gold necklace that his mother gave him just weeks before her diagnosis. He said he never takes it off and thinks daily about what his mother would say if she saw him today.
"I think it keeps me humble," Davis-Allen said. "I think that my mom would be proud, but she was also a tough cookie. She was always pushing me to do my best in school, always pushing me in sports. … She was always pushing me toward graduation. She had the utmost faith in Coach Tillman that I'd be OK through college. So I don't think she really worried too much about me in the future."