AMERICAN CANYON — When Montana State University football fans look up the high school statistics for freshman Devin Davis this fall, his 2019 numbers at American Canyon may look incomplete.
The cornerback managed only 12 total tackles and had zero interceptions on the year, but that was for good reason. Opponents avoided Davis’ side of the field like the plague. Offenses deciding they would have better luck targeting anywhere else.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said after signing a national letter of intent to play NCAA Division I football for the Bobcats during a ceremony in the American Canyon theater on Wednesday. “I liked that they respect me enough to not throw it my way. So I’ll just take it out on receivers, throw them around, get my tape that way.
“That’s the ultimate respect, knowing that someone just doesn’t want to come your way or every time you rotate to a receiver they are throwing the other way. No matter what, the quarterback is second guessing and I’m glad I was able to help my teammates get sacks because he’s double-pumping and the linemen are coming.”
Davis picked up this reputation as a defensive menace in 2018 during a first-round North Coast Section Division II playoff opener against Montgomery at Santa Rosa High. The Vikings came into the game with a talented star in B.J. Johnson, a co-MVP of the Redwood League. The San Jose State University-bound wide receiver managed only 2 catches for 30 yards and 1 touchdown in the matchup, and the Wolves won 43-29.
After Rancho Cotate ended American Canyon’s season in the next round, Davis got his name out there.
“The end of my junior year, I worked extremely hard,” he said. “I went to camps and competed for a 7 on 7 (passing league) team. You know, the results showed up to where I only allowed two catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. I knew I could be great and I still practice in my off time.”
In front of friends, family, coaches and teammates, he stamped his ticket to big-time football in the small town of Bozeman, Montana.
“Today is everything I wanted,” he said. “It’s everything I prayed for. It’s everything I dreamed of. It just felt right. I have put in so much work for this moment.”
The senior cornerback took a visit to Montana State University at the end of January this year and fell in love with the campus and the culture that the Bobcats are building. Davis was offered a scholarship on his visit and committed on the spot.
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The first thing he did after commiting to the Football Championship Subdivision school was to call his high school head coach, John Montante, who was celebrating his young daughter’s birthday but stopped everything to talk with Davis. The two shared a moment on the phone with Davis’ mother, Syeisha Williams, jubilant in the background.
“I love my players and we try to build like a special bond with them. I just told him how excited I was and I’m even kind of tearing up now thinking about it. We had like a little bit of a cry,” Montante said. “He was happy with this decision. I told my wife about it. We had a little happy cry about it, as well, because you invest in these kids. So when these kids get to take this next step, part of these coaches gets to go on with them as well. It was a special moment, and we’re all really proud of him.”
What attracted Davis to Montana State was the energy they are building in Bozeman, where the Bobcats are a program on the rise at the FCS level.
“They’re building something extreme. They’re building something great,” Davis said. “They kept it real with me. They’re like, ‘We want you to come in here and work your hardest.’ It really felt like home and I felt like the coaching staff was able to connect with the players. It just felt like the place to be. My cornerbacks coach said ‘if you come in and work, I can make you into a monster,’ and I liked that. I can see that they have plans, so my plan is just coming to work and then have them put me where they think they need to put me.”
Montana State made it to the semifinals of the 2019 FCS playoffs and were defeated by eventual national champion and perennial power North Dakota State, 42-14.
“You know when you have a program with a strong culture, it’s great for everybody because it’s self-policed by the players and their standards that they live up to. So the expectation is there that players have to come in and put in the work,” Montante said. “It’s a solid program, it’s a top-flight program, and even in the Super Bowl you saw a whole bunch of players that were FCS players. So he’s going to be going into a situation where he’s going to be playing with some really good football players and against some really good football players. So I’m really excited for him to take that next step.”
Originally, Davis wasn’t bound for college on the defensive side of the ball. The lanky, 6-foot-1 athlete was situated to become the next great American Canyon High quarterback. An injury during his sophomore season derailed that idea, but gave Davis a new avenue to pursue on the defensive side of the ball.
“He always had that drive and wanted to be that guy. He always tried really hard to become better, but it didn’t start like that in the beginning,” American Canyon defensive coach Rick Carre said. “I think his sophomore year he got more serious about this. He always had the drive, but wasn’t serious. He just started working harder.”
Montana State wasn’t just a football decision for Davis. He is also planning for a life potentially without football. After sporting a 3.1 GPA in high school, Davis is looking into majoring in engineering, a popular choice at Montana State.
“Really, you would be surprised, but I really liked the academic feel,” Davis said. “Football can be taken away at any time, but the route to be an engineer, I like that part. It also it has really beautiful scenery.”
Davis has brought an energy to the people he meets. Security guards on the high school campus light up when talking about him. His coaches rave about his work ethic and promise, and his happy family watches him succeed.
“I’d rather be a great man, a great individual, a great person, than be a great football player,” Davis said. “Football, it’s just a game. I love it with all my heart and I wouldn’t rather do anything else, but it’s just a game. So I appreciate the fact that people see me as a great person and when they think of me. It’s good things, so I love that.”