Eric Davis could have chosen a faster track to his All-Pro NFL career.
Southeastern Conference schools wanted the Anniston High quarterback and
cornerback. They just wanted him to redshirt and play wide receiver.
But the undersized Davis preferred cornerback, and he preferred now.
Jacksonville State offered both, so he tried making it from a Division II
Then again, how many Division II players jump 4-foot fences flat-footed, and
how many have the motivation Davis got from home?
"I had very strong parents that always taught us that nothing can make you
feel inferior without your permission," Davis said.
Davis bought in, and his feats with Anniston, JSU and four NFL teams over 13
seasons — including an All-Pro season and Super Bowl victory with San Francisco
— won him a selection to the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame.
Already a member of JSU's hall and a first-team pick on the Small College
Team of the Century, Davis will join Tom Bible, Larry Gable, Dr. Ken Hutcherson,
Ray Vinson and Howard "Mouse" Waldrep for Saturday's Calhoun Hall inductions at
6:30 p.m. at the Anniston City Meeting Center.
Davis, now a volunteer coach for high schools and Cabrillo Junior College
near his Soquel, Calif., home, is one of the greatest football success stories
from Anniston's storied program and JSU's glory years.
"I knew he had the ability, but the line to get there is so thin, you just
never know," said Johnny Ingram, Davis' coach at Anniston. "You see some coming
out of college that you think are can't-miss, and they miss. You see some that
are like the darkhorse, and they come through.
"San Francisco must have done a heck of a scouting job on him to take him in
the second round. They knew they had something."
Actually, Davis' story is one of scouting successes and failures.
Davis played for Anniston during a down cycle for the program. The Bulldogs
went 2-16 during his final two seasons; a fact the Ingram said limited Davis'
Size also mattered. Davis calls himself a "late bloomer," growing from size 9
to size 12 1/2 shoes during his NFL career. He estimates that he played at
5-foot-5, 140 pounds in high school.
Still, Davis said Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt out of the SEC
recruited him as a wide receiver. He had a defensive mentality.
"All the time now they talk about the big, physical receivers … the Terrell
Owenses and guys like that, Keyshawn Johnson," Davis said. "It's an oxymoron,
because if the guy liked contact, he'd play defense.
"… I was a little crazy. Most DBs have to be, because we're not the largest
guys. You have to enjoy that sting. You have to enjoy running into a
330/40-pound lineman that's pulling around the corner, and you know that you
have to go take him on, meet him with a full head of steam, or you're going to
end up like a bug on a windshield."
Then-JSU coach Bill Burgess offered Davis a chance to play defense … but just
"He said, 'Now, if you're no good at corner, guess what, I'm moving you to
offense,'" Davis said.
Because of his size, SEC schools wanted Davis to redshirt. Again, Burgess had
a conditional answer.
"Coach Burgess said, 'Eric, if you're good enough to play as a freshman,
you're going to play,'" Davis said. "'If you're not, I'm going to redshirt you.'
"Guess what. That's all I could ask for."
Did Burgess know something other coaches didn't know?
Well, there was the day then-JSU assistant Roland Houston showed up to
Anniston's practice and got an eyeful of Davis. After practice, Ingram had Davis
display his vertical leap.
"We brought Eric over and had him jump flat-footed over the restraining fence
around the football field," Ingram said. "Roland's eyes got very large, and from
that time on, Jacksonville State was very interested in him.
"That was an incredible feat. I've never seen anybody do that before or
Davis went onto become a four-year letterman at JSU. He made the All-Gulf
South Conference team as a senior on JSU's 1989 national runner-up team.
Serious thoughts about a pro career didn't take root until after his junior
season. That's when a Dallas Cowboys scout named Dave Campo showed up on campus.
The Cowboys' future head coach watched film of JSU seniors, but all he saw was
At Campo's request, Burgess summoned Davis out of class. Campo made Davis
want to go jump more fences.
"We talked about the film, and we talked about what I was doing," Davis said.
"After 15 or 20 minutes, he said, 'You know, this is the thing. I can't tell you
what round you'd be drafted in, but I can say, if this was your senior year,
you'd get a chance.'
"He said, 'I would go back and tell my guys you'd get a chance, because I see
some things that would work at the next level.'"
Campo promised to come back and check out the film after Davis' senior year,
but other scouts caught on to Davis. San Francisco 49ers scouts got word to
then-head coach George Seifert, who sent defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes to
Jacksonville to give Davis a workout.
Rhodes was among several coaches who worked Davis out that day. After the
workout, he and then-Washington Redskins assistant Emmitt Thomas agreed: Davis
"I was very impressed at the workout," said Rhodes, now a Houston Texans
assistant after head coaching stops in Philadelphia and Green Bay. "Very
competitive guy. Very competitive and tough. He had great ball skills. He had
good speed, and he would come up and tackle you.
"I went back to the organization and said, 'Hey, we found a player.'"
Rhodes said he didn't have to do too much talking to sell Davis back at the
home office. All he did was pop in Davis' college video.
Others had seen it, and they saw Davis work out. He was invited to the NFL
Combine and submitted to the NFL's annual pinch-and-pull meat market in
Rhodes liked what he saw at Indy even more, and he let Davis know it.
"He told me, 'I tell you to run, and you're faster. I tell you to jump, you
jump higher. I tell you to lift the weights, you're stronger. I tell you to do
the drills, you're quicker,'" Davis said. "He said, 'I watch the film, and
you're a better football player.
"'If you're making plays, then, as far as I'm concerned, you're better. It
doesn't matter if you went to Jacksonville.'"
Davis knew he would get good news on NFL draft weekend … somewhere within 12
rounds, any way. He didn't expect news to come early, so he slept in his dorm
He was tired, after all. His combine performance brought more scouts to JSU
to watch him go through one workout after another. He worked out for scouts on
the average of two or three times per day, and some coaches wanted him to jog
with them, too. He had worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs the day before the
Davis didn't trust it when a Houston Oilers scout touted him as the team's
first-round pick, 10th overall.
"No one's going to draft me in the first round, second round," he said.
"That's not going to happen."
Davis' draft day started with a 6 a.m. call from Rhodes, who wanted to know
if anyone else had called. Rhodes promised to call back hours later with
instructions for Davis to catch a plane to San Francisco.
Things got quiet, so Davis locked his door, turned off the lights and
television and dozed. Then the Pittsburgh Steelers called.
All Davis could think of was cold weather, and he knew the draft had started.
He told them Rhodes had called, and then it was back to sleep.
Phone rings again, and it's Rhodes.
"He said, 'I told you I'm going to draft you,'" Davis said. "'Get yourself on
Knocks at the door followed. Davis' JSU teammates had the particulars of his
second-round selection. He became JSU's highest draft pick ever, at the No. 53
"They were happier about it than I was," he said.
Things got real for Davis in his first mini-camp, when he lined up across
from Jerry Rice. Davis said he knw quarterback Joe Montana would test the
Rhodes saw what he wanted to see.
"I felt that Eric was able to hold his own, and that's what you look for when
you go up against Jerry Rice," he said. "If you've got a young man who can come
in there and compete and hold his own, then he can play for you. That's what
Eric was able to do."
Davis quickly gained confidence.
"I made plays, and I was like, 'OK, I can do this,'" he said.
Davis went on to become one of two players in NFL history to have five or
more interceptions in five consecutive seasons.
He also came up big in big games. His 44-yard interception return for a
touchdown and forced fumble against Michael Irvin helped the 49ers beat Dallas
in the 1994 NFC Championship.
Davis also had an interception in the 49ers' Super Bowl XXIX rout of San
Diego, but winning the Super Bowl was a "relief" to Davis and his teammates. His
favorite moment came in a regular season game at New Orleans.
The 49ers, up four points with about a minute to play, had an all-out blitz
on, and Davis had single coverage on Michael Haynes. Saints quarterback Jim
Everett spotted the single coverage and lofted the pass.
"You could always tell when that ball was coming," Davis said. "… The air
would get thin, because 80,000 people would collectively inhale."
Davis reached and knocked the pass away.
"The part I'll never forget was I hit the ground and rolled over, and I
hopped right back up on my feet," Davis said. "I remember the silence in the
Superdome at that time. For about four or five seconds, it was completely
The 5-11, 185-pound Anniston native had proved so many scouts right … and a
Former Anniston High and Jacksonville State football star Eric Davis lives in
Soquel, Calif., with his wife and four kids, and he does volunteer coaching for
local high schools and nearby Cabrillo College.
Among his protégés is cornerback Dwight Lowery, who went from Soquel High
School to Cabrillo to a record-setting stop at San Jose State.
The New York Jets made Lowery their fourth-round pick in April, and he made
quite an impression in the Jets' recent mini-camp.
"He comes in and he could explain what he was doing at the corner position,
but he could also explain what the whole secondary was doing," Jets coach Eric
Mangini told Newsday. "We had some film there, so if it was a blitz or some kind
of zone blitz, he could explain what the linebackers were responsible for under
"He saw the whole picture from the corner spot."
Davis can't help being more partial to his son Kevin, who has a scholarship
to play for the University of Akron. Kevin Davis is due to report to Akron soon.
"He's a safety; he's bigger than me," Eric Davis said. "I tell him I can
still outrun him though."
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com