Vontae Davis will play his big game today, and then he can move on to his big decision.
Davis is a senior cornerback on Dunbar High School's football team, which will play Coolidge at 11 a.m. today at Eastern High in the Turkey Bowl, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association's championship game. Davis also is being recruited by about a dozen Division I-A college programs.
"That's a big decision to make when you're going through the recruiting process," he said. "That's basically [shaping] the rest of your life, from high school on."
Davis meets the specifications most college coaches are looking for. He's 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighs 185 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, Dunbar Coach Craig Jefferies said. Those attributes were enough to prompt a recruiter from Vanderbilt to tell Jefferies recently that Davis looked as if he could step in and play for the school in its next game. Maryland, Illinois and Michigan State are among the other schools in the running for Davis's services.
Fortunately, he has help.
Davis's older brother, Vernon, was considered one of the top high school tight ends in the country as a Dunbar senior in fall 2002. Now a junior at Maryland and the Terrapins' leading receiver, he has helped Davis by sharing some of his experiences.
Vernon Davis told his brother to "make sure the school has your major and little stuff like that," Vontae said. "Make sure you feel comfortable with the environment and the people around you."
The elder Davis, who has 39 catches for 731 yards and four touchdowns this fall, also has told his younger brother about the rigors of balancing academics and athletics at a Division I program.
"He says it's more commitment. When you're in college, coaches stress that your academics come first, but after that it's football, football, football, football," Vontae Davis said. "You've got to commit yourself to it."
While Vernon Davis imparts a player's perspective, Jefferies shares a coach's wisdom. He is a veteran of the recruiting process: Pictures of about 20 Dunbar players who have gone on to play Division I football decorate a wall in the football coaches' office.
"I usually talk to the coaches because under the NCAA rules, they can talk to me pretty much any time as opposed to the kids," Jefferies said. "I just make sure that the parents and the kids know where the school stands. I pretty much try to help them out with the football aspect of it."
In addition to selling coaches on his players' abilities, Jefferies makes sure they will fit in at the college. He finds out the status of a college coach's contract, figuring that is a good measure of a program's stability. He researches a team's roster. In Davis's case, he checks out the cornerbacks at each school to get an idea of how quickly Davis could crack a team's lineup.
Jefferies said he feels a sense of loyalty to the schools that began recruiting Davis early, such as Illinois and Maryland. And he wonders about schools such as Ohio State, which has only recently shown interest.
"It's like an afterthought," Jefferies said. "How sincere are they? The schools that are jumping on late, he hasn't had the opportunity to kind of get to know those coaches and schools like he had in the past with schools that offered him earlier."
Davis's third pillar of support comes from Adaline Davis, his grandmother and legal guardian. She went through this process with his brother, so she is aware of the type of advice Davis needs.
"I always tell him, 'I just want to be there to support you. You can talk to me, and I'll give you my opinion. I want you to be open with me and let me know how you feel about things, and I'll give you my opinion,' " she said.
Adaline Davis says her priority is Davis's education. His grade-point average is above 3.0 and, like his older brother, he completed the pre-engineering program at Dunbar. He hasn't decided what he wants to study in college, but he is considering pursuing a career as a personal trainer or agent.
Davis's support group seems to have rubbed off on him. When he visits a college, his questions don't simply concern the quality of the weight room and the dormitories. He also seeks out alumni and asks how they benefited from the school after graduating.
"I just want to go somewhere where I can fit in the program," he said.