Click Selection

Search News Releases:

News Resources
on the Web

11 June 2008

JSU Alum and Football Standout to be Inducted in Calhoun Co. Sports Hall of Fame

Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star/File

By Joe Medley
Star Sports Writer

Major College Scouts Miscast Anniston's Eric Davis, but JSU and the NFL Found a Special Player

Reprinted here in its entirety.

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 school.

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' visibility.

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 a chance.

"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 since."

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 Davis.

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 can play.

"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 Indianapolis.

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 room.

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 draft.

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 a plane.'"

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 overall selection.

"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 rookie.

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 quiet."

The 5-11, 185-pound Anniston native had proved so many scouts right … and a few wrong.

Eric extra

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 these coverages.

"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: .

Submit items for news releases by using the request form at