[See image gallery at www.gametimect.com] BRISTOL — It should have been so sweet, this season. The Friday night mystique. The games. The bands. The cheerleaders. The fans. The hype over a three-star recruit with a ticket to Penn State.
Jeffrey Davis Jr.’s homecoming, bringing along his custom-owned maroon Kingswood Oxford helmet to get a nice Bristol Eastern silver-and-blue trimmed sheen. The Lancers, perhaps on the fast track to success after some pretty lean years.
“We were definitely excited for Jeffrey to come home,” Eastern coach Anthony Julius said during a particularly dreary December evening.
It would have been nice. There were some glimmers of hope that a season could be played during the COVID-19 pandemic in Connecticut.
But it was not to be, at least not the way everyone envisioned.
Davis, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound cornerback who committed to play for Penn State in April, could have just accepted that his anticipated, one-season foray into the world of public high school football was not meant to be.
He could have just retired to the weight room and training regimens with Supreme Athlete and awaited signing day on Dec. 16.
But he chose to join his Bristol Eastern teammates during their CIAC sanctioned 7-vs.-7 season. It wasn’t ideal, but it was — in some way — still football.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m here to play and I love playing football,’” Julius recalled.
“That’s just the type of kid he is.”
— Jeffrey Davis Jr. (@3Jeffrey22) October 22, 2020
And it’s a big reason why Penn State and at least 12 other major college programs have clamored for his services at cornerback.
The other reasons are a bit easier to discern, especially when you get a gander of his highlight reel and some of his accomplishments while competing at Kingswood Oxford in West Hartford for three seasons. He’s on the shortlist of top Connecticut recruits for the Class of 2021.
Work ethic is another. Since choosing to devote himself to football, Davis’ commitment to training.
“To have a kid that’s going to play D1, they have to want to commit themselves,” said his mom, Lisa Davis, who played volleyball at Western Connecticut State. “It can’t be a parent’s dream. They truly have to want to do it themselves and have to commit to it or it’s not going to happen.
“I don’t have to say anything. My husband doesn’t have to say anything. Jeffrey just does it. If for some reason he can’t get somewhere, he’ll go in the basement or run around the neighborhood. He works his ass off. You tell him where to be, and he’ll be there ready to work.”
Though quite a few of his minders over the years might have predicted this outcome as he made his way up through youth football with the Bristol Bulldogs, Capital Prep Middle School of Hartford and Kingswood Oxford, Davis certainly wasn’t one of them.
Not at the highest level, anyway.
“I didn’t really see myself as a Power 5 football player,” Davis Jr. said. “I always thought I could at least go to a FCS school or the Ivy League.
“I think I just wasn’t dreaming big enough. I was cutting myself too short. I didn’t see myself to be gifted enough to do that.”
But why not? Davis came from good athletic stock. In addition to his mother, his father Jeff Sr. played football at Western Connecticut (where he met Lisa). His sister, Desiree, won two state basketball championships at Capital Prep, played at Kingswood Oxford and, later, at Southern Connecticut State.
Davis also had speed. Nowadays he runs a consistent 4.4 40-yard dash with his personal best a 4.39. It was during a track meet, running the 100-meter dash for Kingswood Oxford during his sophomore year, that really kicked Davis’ stock into overdrive.
Davis defeated Brunswick School’s Cornelius Johnson, a senior who’d already signed to play wide receiver at Michigan and the reigning Connecticut Gatorade State Player of the Year for football.
“To be honest, I think I had him by a few steps,” Davis said. “I didn’t know he was a football player. I thought, if I could beat him, there were a lot of other guys I could beat.”
— Jeffrey Davis Jr. (@3Jeffrey22) October 14, 2020
Jeffrey’s father immediately texted Stanley “Stack” Williams, a former UConn football player and owner of Supreme Athlete in Hartford who trained Davis Jr.
Williams — to whom Davis Sr. gives an enormous amount of credit for his son’s development along with Martin Manson, the cornerbacks coach at Southern Connecticut State — had a connection to the Michigan program. Within days, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown was in touch and it wasn’t long before Michigan offered Davis Jr. a scholarship.
“I was in shock,” Davis Jr. said. “It was all in quick succession. Michigan, for me, that was huge. The Big House. It’s a big-time program. That was the first big moment in my recruiting. … I didn’t think in such a quick time my life could change, just like that.”
Penn State really caught Davis Jr.’s eye during two visits to the Nittany Lions’ camp. He knew Penn State’s Marquis Wilson, a Windsor native with whom he trained at Supreme Athlete. And he also knew of PSU’s Tyler Rudolph, out of Waterbury and St. Thomas More. “That was a school that I really loved,” he said.
The Penn State coaching staff took its time, however, which admittedly frustrated both father and son. The family took Davis Jr. for an unofficial visit to watch Penn State’s game vs. Indiana last year. After meeting with head coach James Franklin before the game, then retiring to the stands with some encouragement, but not an offer, they both felt like it would never come.
“I said, ‘Can you believe this? We come down and they’re still not going to offer?’ But my wife told me to relax and watch the game.”
An hour and a half before kickoff, Franklin called the family back down to his office. “He said, ‘I don’t want to see you guys walk away without an offer,’” Davis Sr. recalls. “The rest is history.”
— Jeffrey Davis Jr. (@3Jeffrey22) April 17, 2020
Davis Jr. planned on making his official visit and was leaning hard toward committing last summer. But then COVID hit the country and derailed those plans. With little to do but wait at home, Davis Jr. said he made his decision official on April 17.
“I felt like, at that point, I’d been to Penn State enough. I didn’t want to wait,” he said. “For me, I wanted to go to Penn State, regardless. It’s a family atmosphere there and the coaches showed me nothing but love. I just wanted to get everything over with and settle down.”
The family planned on Davis Jr. signing during the December early period so he could enroll for the Spring 2021 semester. But because Kingswood Oxford wouldn’t allow him to graduate early, the family decided against returning for his senior season and enrolled him at Bristol Eastern.
Besides, with a scholarship offer already tendered, Davis Jr. would get the full high school football experience — the bands, the cheerleaders, the event that the family said was sorely missing from the prep school experience playing Saturday afternoons.
— Jeffrey Davis Jr. (@3Jeffrey22) June 16, 2020
“It would be full circle,” Davis Sr. said. “That’s the one thing Jeffrey missed. Playing under the Friday Night Lights. Playing in front of a different crowd that you didn’t get at the prep schools. We said, yea, he started off with the Bristol Bulldogs, wouldn’t it be great to finish off with the kids he grew up playing with?”
Sure, Bristol Eastern hadn’t had a winning season in five years. But with a large senior class and Davis aboard, maybe the Lancers would have a good shot at reversing the trend.
Julius said he meshed “really well” with the team and couldn’t wait to unleash hims in the open field where mortal players couldn’t touch him.
“Jeffrey is an extremely hard worker. He’s a quiet kid who was coming to work on his craft. But just because he wasn’t very vocal, you could tell, by his work ethic, he was a lead-by-example guy. Having that caliber a kid on your roster helps the other quality kids on your roster.”
But then the Bristol Eastern’s season never came.
“Initially, it was kind of tough. I was looking forward to it.” Davis said of the lost season. “I decided to spend this time to really hone in on my craft, physically, mentally. Study film. And stay healthy.”
With Davis’ help, Eastern at least defeated rival Bristol Central in a 7-vs.-7 version of the town’s annual ‘Battle for the Bell.’ Eastern hadn’t won the game — all but one decided by less than a touchdown — since 2014.
It wasn’t as good as the real thing, but Davis counts it: “They were all saying, ‘Oh, you needed a Penn State recruit to finally win.’”
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