RICHMOND, Va. — You could say Wendell Davis, Jr., was born to play football.
Davis, a Richmond, Virginia native and the son of former NFL tight end Wendell Davis, Sr., has signed his letter of intent to play football at Pitt starting this fall.
But the path to follow his father’s footsteps to Division I college football and possibly the pros was far from pre-ordained. There was another hurdle that the younger Davis had to overcome.
“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to play football, but my mom, she didn’t really want me to play at a young age, so I didn’t start playing until the seventh grade,” Davis said in an exclusive interview at the gym where he trains in Richmond. “It was when I finally wore her off. She really never wanted me to play. I just finally convinced her. She figured I was old enough. She didn’t want to worry about her son getting a concussion. That’s finally when I convinced her.”
While Davis was in a holding pattern, he found a different passion: taewkondo.
“I’m actually a first-degree black belt in taekwondo,” Davis said. “I started doing it when I was like 13. I became a black belt when I was like nine or 10. I was in there every day, I went to every class.”
It may or may not have to do with his martial arts background, but there is a quiet intensity about Davis that shines through.
“He’s probably one of the quietest guys in the class,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said at signing day. “He will walk through the door and you’ll see one part of it, but when he gets on the field, the guy is like The Hulk. He really turns it loose.”
Davis stopped his martial arts training when his mom gave him the green light to don the pads, but there’s a common thread to what made him successful in both fields: work ethic.
“I like the way (football) shows that hard work pays off,” Davis said.
But football is different. It’s a game that requires a combination of efforts from 11 different players at a time and 100 men on the roster. Beyond the initial excitement of following in his father’s footsteps, that’s what has kept him engaged.
“What drew me to football when I started playing was that it makes you form a relationship with guys that you never thought you would before, like guys from a different part of town or a different economic background,” Davis said. “It brings you all together. It makes you work together as a team.”
Davis wanted a place where he felt that connection after high school, and he’s found it at Pitt. He also found a place where he could make his mother happy, too.
“They always wanted me to come up to visit, but my mom was like, ‘It’s too far. I’m not going that far unless there’s an offer involved,’” Davis said. “So they offered me and I came up and made a visit.”
On his visit, Davis found an unexpected connection to the city.
“I didn’t really know much about Pittsburgh until recently,” he said. “A lot of places I went to were just big college towns like UVa in Charlottesville and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Duke in Durham. It’s a lot of college towns. The thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s a big city, but it doesn’t feel like a big city. That kind of drew me to it.
“My parents loved it. My dad loves the staff and likes what they do on defense. My mom likes the school and the academic areas, the support and the opportunity that the city brings. Once football is over, it’s a city where you can find a good job, a good place to start a home.”
What sold Davis on Pitt football was the family environment and the ability to play for a defensive-minded head coach that played his position in Narduzzi.
“The team interaction, everyone is like a family. A lot of schools, it just different,” Davis said. “Going to play for a defensive-minded head coach was a big draw for me. I know he’s a guy that will work with me, push me to my fullest potential.”
Now that Davis has signed with the Panthers, he’s set his sights and doing everything he can to contribute as soon as he gets on campus.
“Pitt isn’t one of those schools where you come in and automatically get redshirted,” he said. “What you put into it in the offseason gives you the best chance to show it in fall camp. Whether I redshirt or not, I just want to give me shot to the coaches so they can see what I can do.”
The hard work has continued after his senior season at Benedictine High School finished. Davis, now a 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker, has been working out five days a week in order to get himself physically prepared for his freshman year.
“There’s always someone out there working harder than you,” he said. “When I’m feeling tired, whether it’s the fourth quarter and your legs are tired or your ankle is tweaked, just to keep pushing through, because the big prize at the end, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.”