The lowest moment of Isaiah Davis’s young college football career came on a nondescript, second half kickoff last October in State College, Pa. After the play was over, the Maryland freshman linebacker leveled Penn State kicker Joey Julius, earning an ejection and eventually a one-game suspension from Coach DJ Durkin.
Almost immediately after the game was over, Davis also heard from his older brother, Sean, a former Maryland star who took a break from his duties as a rookie safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers to lay into his little brother over the phone.
“My brother pretty much had to get me back in line after that. He pretty much told me, ‘There are cameras on you all the time, so you need to keep your composure 24/7,’ ” Isaiah Davis said on Friday, recalling how that conversation helped set him on his current path.
He didn’t mind Durkin making an example of him. The coach, in his first season, used the suspension to send a message to the rest of the team that he wouldn’t tolerate dirty antics. But Davis also knows that the setback helped him grow up, especially considering his scolding from an older brother already playing in the NFL.
After he returned to the team, the reserve linebacker earned everything he could on special teams. When junior linebacker Shane Cockerille was suspended right before the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, Davis got the start, posting seven tackles and showing glimpses of the physicality at the second level that his brother once did as a violent defensive back in College Park.
“He’s taken the next step in the progression of a player,” Durkin said of Davis. “We’re counting on him big time. He’s going to continue to be a factor in our special teams, as well as at linebacker.”
Sean Davis is now in his second season with the Steelers, and while he’s been busy with training camp, his younger brother still sends him cut-ups of plays, seeking advice. The film-sharing started last season, when Isaiah would send any footage he could find, knowing his older brother would grade it with the same direct honesty offered regarding the suspension.
“I’ll send him a couple clips of practice, and ask him: ‘How do I play this block? Or how do I cover this back?’ And he’ll usually say, ‘Tighten up right here, or use your hands more,’ ” said the younger Davis, who played high school ball locally at St. Stephens/St. Agnes.
Even though they play different positions, Isaiah who has blossomed into a 6-foot-1, 238-pound specimen, still wants to pattern his “striking” like his brother does as a safety. That has made him an intriguing candidate for a potential starting role alongside senior Jermaine Carter Jr., who is expected to be among the top linebackers in the Big Ten.
With Cockerille’s status in limbo — while the senior continues to practice with the team, he has yet to be cleared for game action by Durkin — Maryland will rely on senior Jalen Brooks and a crop of young linebackers to help solidify the unit. That includes sophomore Brett Shepherd, who was one of 17 freshmen to see significant time last year, as well as junior college transfer Nick Underwood, a sophomore who has impressed Durkin in camp.
And then there is Davis, who is still working on his eye progression as a young linebacker. He is still learning how to see blocks. But nobody doubts his talent or his heightened maturity, both connected to a brother now playing at the highest level of the sport.
“We were always real physical growing up. Like any other brothers, we fight and stuff like that. Watching him play, he was always head first, striking kind of guy. He would never wait for somebody to come, he would always take the fight to them,” Isaiah Davis said. “So I try to match my game to his.”