Under the Helmet: My Interview with 49ers Vernon Davis (Exclusive)

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“The biggest lesson I learned is learning how to be a leader, learning how to put my teammates before myself, playing for my teammates, putting everything on the line for them. It’s just learning football, learning the game of football.” Vernon Davis

Tight End Vernon Davis was the 49ers’ 2006 first-round draft pick out of the University of Maryland. He has had tremendous success, with 423 receptions for 5,446 yards and 55 receiving TDs (11 rushing). After having an off year in 2014, Davis comes into 2015 with high expectations for himself, his teammates, and his new head coach. I had a chance to talk with Davis last week and let me tell you, this guy gives new meaning to the term Renaissance man. Join me as I go Under the Helmet with Vernon Davis.

Clean Living

Because he blends so many different passions and talents, it seems only fitting that Davis owns four Jamba Juices in California; that combined with his love of health and fitness makes it an obvious partnership. What’s his favorite juice combination?

“The carrot and orange, I love it; especially if you can mix a little spinach and kale in there with it.”

As an aside, I have a lot of respect for anyone who is that excited about kale.

When he’s not juicing, what’s his favorite healthy pre-game meal?

“I think my favorite healthy pre game meal would probably be grilled chicken or baked chicken with sweet potato or rice or vegetables – broccoli, green beans, and a side of fruit.”

Well that does sound healthy and delicious. He called chocolate chip cookies and brownies his biggest guilty pleasure. Yup! Now we’re talking!

Davis’s love of training and staying in shape is so well known, that C Marcus Martin has said that he credits Davis for helping to get him in shape this off season.

“When young guys come in, they look to a veteran, so that they can figure out what they need to do to get better…We’re all about getting better, we focus on the little things, so that when you get on the field, you can be spectacular…That’s what he understands he has to work on. He had a chance to work on the little things that can help him become a spectacular player, and that’s what he’s been doing. He’s been so dedicated to his craft; he’s just all about getting better, and he’s gotten better.”

So, let’s talk some football.

Speaking of getting better, Davis and his Niner teammates are coming off a tough year and a tougher offseason. San Francisco has a new coach, a mainly new coaching staff, and the team is working on coming together as a unit to play hard and win. I talked to Davis about all of this, but let’s start with the man himself. What did Vernon Davis work on most this offseason?

“Me, I just worked on my route running. I felt like I needed to work on my route running, my feet and hand placement when it comes to blocking. Also worked on my feet, having quicker feet, because that translates to just running a better route, you know? That’s pretty much the only categories that I’ve been able to catch and get better at.”

Quicker feet are going to be helpful in the 49ers’ newer, faster offense this season.

“The faster paced offense is there to keep the defense, um, to just keep the defense off balance. If you hurry up and get back to the huddle and you snap the ball, the defense, they normally take their time getting out of huddle and getting down, so they don’t really have time. There’s limited time for them. And with that…as an offensive unit, you’re able to be efficient when it comes to making plays.”

Off balances defenses (not ours of course) and efficient offensive playmaking is just music to my ears! But, moving on.

49ers’ QB Colin Kaepernick has also done a lot of work to improve this offseason, and hopefully, Kaepernick and Davis can find their stride in 2015.

“I feel like we’re definitely in a rhythm. And I feel like we’re getting somewhere as far as trust. And it’s all about trust. That’s what football is about. Kaepernick has to trust that I’m going to be where I have to be… Now he has to believe in that, because he should be able to throw the ball off his back foot…with one eye open, because he knows that I’m going to be there. And that’s what it’s about. You have to have that. But I feel like we’re getting somewhere. I feel like we’re on the right track. We’re on the right path. We’re definitely trying to keep it all together.”

And what about the Jim Tomsula of it all? How is the first time head coach adjusting?

“He’s one of a kind. He’s fun. He’s just simply amazing, and I say that because he’s just a regular guy. He cares about the team. He cares about each and every player. He just wants to see everyone feel really, really well, and I applaud him for that, because most coaches like to just sit back and just talk about football. He’s going to talk about football; that’s his number one priority. But he’s also going to talk to you about your family…He’s just real. He’s just real. He’s very, very authentic…in so many different ways. And that’s the key thing that people love about Coach Tomsula. He’s gelling with the players. He’s gelling with the team. And when you look at the guy, you say, ‘I wanna play for him. I want to play for him.’”

I’m pretty sure that’s as good as an endorsement as a coach can get from one of his star players.

The Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts

Davis is not just an entrepreneur and a football player; he’s also a philanthropist with his own foundation. According to vernondavisfoundation.org, the mission of the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts is “…to promote art education and art appreciation among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. We fulfill our mission by providing scholarships to dedicated art students and grants to deserving nonprofit programs who share in our ideals.”

This is an area that Davis has been passionate about since he was a young kid who loved art but didn’t feel that he would fit in if he pursued it.

“…[W]hen I was a kid growing up in the Washington, DC area, the environment that I grew up in…it stopped kids from being able to pursue the arts.  And I say that because, in order to be cool you had to have the newest pair of shoes, like Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley. And you had to play a sport; you had to participate in a sport. So kids wouldn’t, they couldn’t really pursue their dreams, all because they were worried about people making fun of them.”

“So when I got to college, I felt like I was free. I was in a different environment. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do. So I decided to change my major from criminal justice to art studio, and I didn’t look back. I mean, it was truly amazing. Every day I walked in to that class, I felt good about myself, very confident…I was just in a whole other atmosphere, and I could do the things that I wanted to do without worrying about people critiquing me, calling me names…It was pretty amazing.”

It’s also pretty amazing that Davis has worked to provide this opportunity to artists with Gallery 85 on Santana Row and through the Foundation’s scholarships to students looking to study art.

“…[I]n the art gallery, what we do is, we pick local artists within the Bay Area, and they have a chance to showcase their art in my gallery. We give them a platform to just have their work seen by so many different people that come into the gallery. We give them 50% of the proceeds, and the other 50 goes toward the Foundation.”

“At the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts, we give out scholarships. So we’re all about helping kids that are involved in art and are trying to go to school for the arts; we help them get into school by meeting them halfway with whatever financial stability they need. Then they have scholarships.”

Sweeping the Ice

You may or may not know that Vernon Davis is a pretty big fan of the sport curling. You also may or may not know what curling is. If one were to Google curling, which I obviously did, one would find the following definition:
a game played on ice, especially in Scotland and Canada, in which large, round, flat stones are slid across the surface toward a mark. Members of a team use brooms to sweep the surface of the ice in the path of the stone to control its speed and direction.

It actually sounds pretty fun. Davis served as the honorary captain for the U.S. curling team in both 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, which is pretty cool. But how did this love of a sport with special brooms begin?

“I’m all about information. I love information. One day, someone came up to me and she asked me to come out and try out curling…It’s very, very interesting. So I decided to go out and try to compete on the ice and I kind of fell in love with it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ It’s very relaxing…You can have fun with it at the same time…You have to be focused in any sport that you play. But, you can just have a great time with this game. I mean you can just go out there, just play around and just slide across the ice. It’s pretty amazing. It’s unique. It doesn’t require you to be, like, physically fit. Anyone can play…[I]f you can bend your knees, you can play.”

Vernon Davis Twitter

Not Socially Awkward

If you follow the Niners, you probably know that Davis is an avid user of social media. Yet, he has thus far managed not to get himself into trouble. What are Vernon’s Tips and Tricks to keeping a high social media profile?

“…[D]on’t post anything that’s negative. Don’t post anything controversial. Post the things that can help make people better. Post the things that people can smile and laugh at in a good way. Post things…aspirational, things that make you happy, like food, and things, where people, good things, where people can look inside to get a glimpse of your life.”

And as long as he’s giving out some good advice, what does he tell young kids who want to play in the NFL?

“I tell them to continue to work hard no matter what happens; no matter what obstacles come their way, no matter what adversity they may face, because they’re going to face adversity. There’s going to be times when you’re exceptional, where you’re just amazing, right? You’re going to have some of the most amazing years. And then you’re going to have, you know, years where it’s not so good. Maybe there’s a year where you want to do better, there’s a year where you got hurt. You’re going to have those and people are going to judge you and they’re going to criticize you and try to put you down. They’re going to go against you. But, there’s a lesson, and the lesson is, continue to do everything that you did…You can’t stop the obstacles. You can’t stop the adversity. They’re just storms that come, and sometimes when we’re in a storm, we don’t have a way out…It’s gonna come. That’s how it is with football. You have those lessons and they’re there to teach you. The takeaway is just keep smiling, continue to do everything you did in the beginning, and it will continue to get better.”

Looking forward to 2015

I asked Davis what he saw as the team’s biggest challenge going into the season, and his answer may surprise you, but remember, there’s no “I” in team.

“I think the biggest challenge for the team is just, uh, being able to come together as a unit, just stay together, and just having each other’s back. I think that’s always a challenge for any team; it doesn’t matter what team you’re on…The hardest thing for any team is just staying together, staying together and playing for one another. It’s just hard. When you’re in a game setting…there are so many different egos, you know sometimes guys, uh, they just, it feels like they’re shy when it comes to saying what they feel to their peers, to their teammates. It’s just one of those things, so when it comes to keeping it together, it’s always a challenge. It sounds like it’s easy just to stay together and to keep the team together, but it’s really not.”

And what is Davis most excited about?

“I’m excited about my teammates. I’m excited that I get the opportunity to play the game of football again, because this game, I mean it could be over just like that. I get another opportunity so I’m excited. I’m excited about that one.”

I’m excited about that one too. I can’t wait to see #85 stretching the field and making plays starting September 14.

As always, Go Niners!

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Tracy Sandler

Bleeding gold and staying Niner faithful, I bring you the latest news features & commentary on my beloved San Francisco 49ers.

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