Isaiah Davis-Allen misses his mother the most when he is putting his Maryland lacrosse uniform on before games, always ruminating about what the jersey represents. The uniform carries great expectations — not only because of the program’s rich history, but because of what it offered Davis-Allen during the most difficult months of his life. He arrived in College Park two summers ago as a hot-shot recruit who was still grieving the death of his mother, Audrey Davis, who had died of cancer a few months before.
Just days after her funeral, Isaiah Davis-Allen graduated from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes School in Alexandria. It was the first in a long line of moments that Davis-Allen wishes he could have shared with his mother, including moving into his first college dorm a few months later and eventually making his collegiate debut for the Terrapins last spring. Another will come Saturday night at Byrd Stadium, when Maryland hosts rival Johns Hopkins in the regular season finale.
“When you get kind of shocked with something like that,” Davis-Allen said, “it kind of makes you focused . . . about the stuff that is special to you.”
Davis-Allen will be thinking of his mother, like he does before every game, as he gears up Saturday. Then he will take the field with teammates and coaches who have helped him through vulnerable moments over the past two years, watching him become part of the bedrock of the program as a sophomore. He’s established himself as a powerful short-stick defensive midfielder for the second-ranked Terps (12-1, 4-0), who can win the Big Ten regular season championship outright with a win over their bitter rivals .
Davis-Allen’s curiosity in lacrosse was triggered in large part because of his family history with the sport. His uncle, Maurice Davis, played at Rutgers in 1981 and his mother was well-versed in the schemes and fundamentals of the sport. Audrey Davis would attend all of her son’s games, often screaming instructions from the stands and providing critiques after he developed into a bright prospect in high school.
“She was tough on me. I don’t think anybody was as tough on me as my mom was,” Davis-Allen said.
She fell ill in the spring of 2013, and Davis-Allen rushed her to the hospital one afternoon before he was set to play in a playoff game. He called his coaches and told them he wasn’t going to be able to play, but his mother always had a way of pushing him. She eventually persuaded him to leave the hospital and suit up.
“From the minute my sister even got sick, I was stunned by the maturity that I saw in him,” said Davis-Allen’s aunt and godmother, Claire Davis, who had driven down to help take care of Davis-Allen and his little sister, Josephine.
Audrey Davis had stage four lung cancer diagnosed that April, but still pushed her son to savor the final weeks of his senior year. He was on his senior class trip in Virginia when his father, Frank Allen, called and urgently told him he needed to come home.
“So I hopped in my car and drove as fast as I could,” he said. “I missed her by, like, five minutes.”
The period after his mother’s death was a blur. It was the first time he realized how important Maryland was as a school, he said, because calls and texts flooded in from teammates he didn’t even know yet. Maryland Coach John Tillman attended the funeral service. Davis-Allen fully learned how to deal with his loss when he finally moved to College Park, immediately feeding off the program’s “family atmosphere” and channeling his energy into the new experiences of college. There was not an emotional breaking point — but his teammates have been able to sense, at times, when Davis-Allen is having a rough day. Sometimes he goes to dinner with teammates or sits and talks life with them to get it off his mind.
“I don’t know how he does it. He’s very poised. He’s very mature. Sometimes you can sense that he has a lot on his plate or that he’s going through a lot,” Tillman said. “You hope as a coach you can sense that.”
He also has the sport itself. Lacrosse can be a vicious game but it has always been a peaceful place for Davis-Allen, who became a key contributor last season as a freshman. He has rare athleticism and has filled out his 6-foot-2 frame, gaining more than 20 pounds since his freshman season.
He can defend on and off the ball equally well, and might be just as skilled as an offensive player as he is defensively. As of now, he’s versatile enough to fill a void in the depth in the midfield, playing all 13 games with three goals and 19 groundballs.
The most important stride Davis-Allen has made, he said, is learning how to talk about his mother’s death with his 15-year-old sister. He has worried about all the moments his sister will miss with his mother. Just as Maryland’s program has offered stability for him, he hopes to provide support for her. He will bear the weight of it all Saturday night against Johns Hopkins (6-6, 3-1).
“I’m not playing just for me. I’m playing for the past Terps, the past hard-shells,” he said, “and obviously for my family.”