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Out of big brother's shadow, linebacker Isaiah Davis making most of his chance at Maryland

Maryland linebacker Isaiah Davis' redshirt freshman season a year ago could've been defined by one play — a long-after-the-whistle late hit on Penn State kicker Joey Julius. Instead, Davis withstood its messy aftermath to finish the season in a much better place in terms of his future with the Terps.

That's where Davis' big brother played a role.

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While being ejected from the team's first loss last season and then being suspended by coach DJ Durkin the following week for a homecoming defeat to Minnesota certainly sent a message to the younger Davis, a stern lecture from Sean Davis might've made the biggest impact.

"My brother pretty much had to get me back in line after that," Isaiah Davis said after a recent practice. "He pretty much told me, 'There are cameras on you all the time, so you need to keep your composure 24/7, especially on a Big Ten team on national TV. Be a man.'"

Sean Davis, who at the time was in the middle of what became a breakthrough rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, recalled how he had DVR'd the Maryland-Penn State game and watched the replay the day after. His brother's misstep brought back memories of his own freshman year at Maryland, when he had to channel his hard-hitting style.

"It was an aggressive play; I'm not knocking him. I always want him to play hard," said Sean, who is three years older than his brother. "Penalties are part of the game, but keep your composure until you're in the locker room and you're in a safe zone."

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The teaching moment is something that Sean, the middle of five siblings and three sons, has always tried to provide for Isaiah, the youngest in the family. It didn't matter that he was having his own adjustment to the NFL at the time. Sean often watches his brother's games to provide insight and suggestions on how to improve.

"I had my responsibilities, but before I'm an NFL player, I'm a big brother, too," Sean said. "I feel like it's my job to nurture him and make him become a better man than me. I want him to learn through my mistakes and my experience. I feel like that's the way to accelerate his growth."

Isaiah acknowledged that the incident at Penn State ultimately helped him.

"There was a lot of maturity that I had to take on after the situation, especially trying to be a leader for the team," he said.

After returning to his role on special teams following the suspension, Isaiah finally got his chance at linebacker when junior starter Shane Cockerille (Gilman), Maryland's leading tackler during the regular season, was suspended for unspecified reasons right before the Terps' bowl game.

In a 36-30 loss to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, Isaiah tied fellow linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. with a team-high seven tackles.

"It was pretty big for me, especially playing predominantly special teams to moving up to starting," Isaiah said. "It was a big jump for me, but I felt I was ready. We have such a tight group, such a competitive LB group, any one of us could have gone up and started that game."

Big brother was watching that game, too.

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"I thought he did a pretty good job," Sean said. "He was very physical, downhill. That's definitely an attractive linebacker to me. Seeing him bounce back like that and step up to the plate — when adversity hit him and he was down, he fought back."

Sean, a second-round pick of the Steelers in 2016 who was known for his physical style during his college career as a safety and cornerback at Maryland, said his little brother's physicality was missing from the Terps defense last season.

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"I'd been watching the whole season and didn't see downhill football like that," Sean said. "For him to step up like that in his first start, that's encouraging as a big brother to see him take my coaching and teaching points and to see him put it out on the field, I'm looking forward to him doing a lot more of that this year."

The younger Davis seems ready to build on that bowl game performance. With Cockerille still trying to work his way back on the field for the Sept. 2 opener at Texas, Davis is competing with graduate Jalen Brooks for a starting job alongside Carter.

"The evolution of a player and a program, you grow from year to year," Durkin said recently. "Isaiah played a ton of special teams for us. He gained a lot of game experience from that and I think he's a more confident player because of it. He's taken the next step in the progression of a player. We're counting on him big time."

Isaiah, who at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds is the same height and 36 pounds heavier than Sean, acknowledges that the physical style he is trying to bring to Maryland's defense comes from years of following his brother's lead.

"Me and my brother, we were always physical growing up," he said. "Like any other brothers, we'd fight and stuff like that. Watching him play, he was always a head-first kind of striking kind of guy. He would never wait for someone to come. He would always take the fight to them. I'd try to match my game to his."

Sean said the brothers' physical style started with what their father, also named Sean, always preached to his sons.

"You've got to be tough, coming where we're from," Davis said of the family's roots in Temple Hills. "My dad is a fighter and he just instilled that in us. He'd say, 'I'd much rather you be the hammer than the nail.' That's how we've been taught."

Isaiah learned that the hard way once, from his brother on the field. Sean recalled with a laugh one brief confrontation between the two when he was a senior at the Maret School in Washington and Isaiah was a freshman at Sidwell Friends. (Isaiah transferred to St. Stephen's and St. Agnes as a junior.)

"A person on my team was scoring and my brother was chasing him, and I didn't know it was my brother and I just cleaned him up and knocked him down," Sean said. "I turned around and I realized it was my brother, and instead of celebrating with my teammate, I went to pick my little brother up."

It was not the first time, and it certainly wasn't the last.

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