Ravens cornerback Will Davis took an uncommon path to the NFL

Ravens cornerback Will Davis pictured during practice this month.

Will Davis is an aspiring photographer. As he traveled around Europe this offseason, collecting stamps on his passport, the Ravens cornerback sought out landscapes and landmarks he had seen only in photographs.

Camera at the ready, Davis tried to locate the exact vantage point where the photographers he studied had taken their photos. He crouched down, contorted his body and considered his surroundings. Finally satisfied, he snapped his own pictures and reviewed how his matched up.


"I wanted to see the things they saw," Davis said.

Davis cherishes each experience and covets every interaction — on and off the field. The turmoil he faced on his way to the NFL convinced him there's no better way to live.


The tiny handprint tattooed on his left arm is a reminder of a large personal loss. The scars on each of his knees are proof of the physical setbacks he's overcome. Yet, the smile on his face these days is omnipresent and radiates as much as the diamond studs he wears in his ears.

After a trade from Miami to Baltimore last September and after a second torn ACL in 11 months, the vision Davis had for his football career is now finally coming into focus.

"The stars are falling in line," Davis said. "You start feeling it coming back. Once you start feeling it mentally, knowing that you're almost back to the same kid and then you start making plays, you just show you're about to do something great."

Of all the players on the Ravens' 53-man roster, Davis, 26, might have taken the most roundabout route getting there. He played only one year of high school football because of an agreement he made with his older brother to stay out of each other's way. Western Washington, the school that gave him a scholarship, disbanded its football program before Davis played a game.

Four years (and two schools) later, Davis was taken by the Dolphins in the third round of the 2013 draft. Now a projected reserve in the Ravens' new-look secondary, Davis has had a fast rise, but quite a bumpy one at times.

"He's had a lot of barriers," said Shon Davis Sr., Will's father. "He sees them as opportunities. He doesn't take them as setbacks."

Growing up

Whether his home has been Spokane or Bellingham, Wash., Los Angeles or Cupertino, Calif., Logan, Utah, Miami or Baltimore, Davis has never had a problem adapting and fitting in. As a senior at Central Valley High in Spokane, Davis was voted student body president. As a Dolphins' rookie, Davis' home became a gathering spot for certain Miami veterans.


"He's got an energy that makes it easy for him to bond with anybody, any group," said wide receiver Chuck Jacobs, who was with the Ravens for much of training camp and also was Davis' teammate at Utah State. "He's really well-rounded from that standpoint."

Shon Davis Sr. grew up in Compton, outside Los Angeles, and got enveloped by the drugs and gang lifestyle. He was shot twice. He was determined to avoid the same challenges for his three boys, so he moved his family to Spokane when Will was 4.

After Will's parents divorced when he was 9, he spent school years with his father in Spokane and most summers with his mother, who moved back to Compton.

"Growing up in that environment, I had to coach them as to their appearance, their dress, their posture, how you look at a person," said Shon Sr., who is now a pastor. "I wanted them to understand, my strictness wasn't to confine them. It was to protect them."

Will initially rebelled against his father, but he soon got a wakeup call. He was at his grandmother's house in the Compton area when gunfire erupted outside.

A couple of years later, his older brother, Shon Jr., was shot at by a gang member as he was crossing the street with a friend. Even before his brother's incident, Will decided his days in Compton were over.


Back in Spokane, Will excelled in school and sports, won a district-wide award for his leadership and was on his way to a college scholarship. However, his senior year took a tragic turn. Will and his high school girlfriend had a baby girl on Aug. 3, 2008. Nevaeh Dena Davis died the day she was born. Will said her rib cage wasn't developed, preventing her lungs from expanding.

"Having that taken away from you, it makes you see life a little different," said Davis, who has his late daughter's handprint tattooed on his left arm. "It makes you cherish the life you have. It ultimately changed my attitude going forward."

Slow to football

Shon Davis Jr.'s middle name is Kohoakahi. His grandmother is Hawaiian, and the name means "The Chosen One." For years, Will resented what he perceived as favorable treatment for his brother, older by 14 months. He and Shon Jr. had different personalities and Will made sure they had different friends and interests, too.

Will played basketball, wanting to be the next Allen Iverson. For his first three years of high school, he avoided football.

"I didn't want to be in my brother's shadow," Davis said. "I wanted to be better than him at everything, and football was the one thing I didn't think I could be better than him at, so I didn't play."


Davis relented only after his brother's promising football career ended when he sustained a significant knee injury. Davis proved to be a natural at cornerback and he was thrilled to have one school — in-state Division II Western Washington — willing to give him a scholarship.

However, during his redshirting freshman year there, the school announced it was dropping the football program for budgetary reasons. Some of his older teammates were in tears, but Davis shrugged it off, not believing football was taking him anywhere, anyway. The school honored its scholarships, so for the next year, Davis enjoyed the college experience and satisfied his thirst for competition by playing flag football, intramural dodgeball and basketball.

"I was the star," Davis said with a grin. "I just killed it."

Ultimately, though, football drew him back, and Davis faced a decision: Stay at Western Washington and get a free education, or walk on at De Anza College, a junior college in California, where an assistant coach had wooed him for some time.

"You ever get one of those gut feelings about somebody? I had that about him from the beginning," Tony Santos, now the De Anza head coach, said of Davis. "No other person in my 25 years have I recruited for two years. He was the only one."

In one year at De Anza, Davis led all the California JUCO players in interceptions. Suddenly, he had several bigger programs offering scholarships. He chose Utah State, and in two years there, he had five interceptions and became an NFL prospect despite having played just four years of organized football.


"He never took football too seriously," Shon Jr. said. "But his competitive nature and drive, that's always been the core of who he is."

A cultured cornerback

In his first game for the cornerback-needy Ravens, Davis made a key pass breakup against Antonio Brown in the team's Thursday night victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following week, he tore the ACL in his left knee. The range of emotions might be a microcosm for Davis' career.

"I think I was finally about to be the kid that I knew that I would become in this league, and it was taken away from me," Davis said.

He didn't stay down for long. When he wasn't rehabbing this offseason, he was traveling, visiting Italy and Mexico. Davis, who got his passport before he was drafted, also has been to Sweden and France. His girlfriend, Lisa Mason, a former Olympian gymnast from Great Britain, lives in the United Kingdom, so he's spent significant time there as well.

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Will has plans for more traveling in the future. He started an Instagram account where he shares some of his photos.


"He became so cultured so quickly. He values anybody who can give him a new perspective on life," Shon Jr. said. "He's really inspired a bunch of people in our family, including me. I got my passport after he started traveling. He set the tone for us not to be afraid of things that you've never tried before. I wouldn't have done half the things that I've done in the last two years if it wasn't for my brother."

Shon Sr. considered it a blessing that after Davis was drafted by the Dolphins, Shon Jr.'s job with NBC Universal transferred him to Miami. The two brothers, who were at odds frequently during their adolescence, lived together and made up for lost time. For years, Will avoided playing football because of his brother. Now, as he embarks on his second season with the Ravens, he can't help but wonder how things would have been different if he started playing earlier.

But he hardly dwells on it. He's too focused on what's in front of him.

"I dare anybody to spend an hour with my brother and not want the utmost best for him," Shon Jr. said. "He has an electric personality. He's very engaging, avoids negativity. He sees a lot of value in individuals and moments and wants to maximize the right now."