LENNOXVILLE, Que. — Tanard Davis was raised in a section of Miami known as The Grove, and watched both his parents abuse drugs before turning their lives around through rehab.
But Davis had a gift for athletics and understood, early on, that prowess, combined with education, could be his potential escape from a dependant life.
“When you’re a young child, you want to embrace the education field,” said the 27-year-old, attempting to crack the Montreal Alouettes’ roster this season at cornerback. “Athletics is the easy way out. It’s your ticket out of the ghetto.”
Nonetheless, Davis was renowned more as a track star with blazing speed, receiving a track scholarship from the University of Miami. He parlayed that into a spot on the Hurricanes’ football team, making the squad as a walk-on, eventually earning a football scholarship after an excellent spring practice session in 2003, about to enter his junior season.
He became a two-sport star — winning the Big East Conference title in the 60 metres indoors in 2004, and then playing receiver for the Hurricanes before being switched to defensive back.
After three seasons bouncing around the NFL — Davis was a practice squad member of Indianapolis’ 2006 Super Bowl team, and also had stints with Carolina, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tennessee — he’s taking a stab at Canadian professional football. It won’t be easy cracking the defending Grey Cup champion’s roster, especially since Mark Estelle’s ahead of Davis at weakside corner.
But the five-foot-10, 190-pound Davis is a versatile player who can also play strong-side linebacker. He was used at both positions during last Sunday’s exhibition, against Winnipeg, playing virtually the entire game. That seemed to indicate the coaching staff wanted a long look at the prospect.
“He’s a guy you’re kind of looking for, because he can play a lot of positions,” defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said. “He’s smart and talented. And he has a good background. He has a lot of drive and understands the game. He’s also a quick adapter. Guys who make the CFL usually adapt quickly, are smart and have talent. And he does.
“But the hard thing’s going to be making the team. We have a good secondary here.”
It’ll come down to the ratio, as it invariably does. But the Als have been forced to start a non-import — Stanford Samuels or De’Audra Dix — on the other corner to replace the departed Davis Sanchez, a Canadian who signed with the B.C. Lions as a free agent. That might translate into one less American on the roster, although Davis also plays special teams.
Davis potentially has other options should things not work out in Montreal. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers expressed an interest in him, but he signed with the Als last March, upon the suggestion of his agent, believing it presented the best opportunity.
Davis also has degrees in criminology and sociology to fall back on, when his career ends. He hopes to eventually work in the Drug Enforcement Agency, perhaps following a stint as a police officer.
Although he constantly was on and off the Colts’ practice roster, Davis emphatically stated it was the best experience of his career.
He got a championship ring and Tony Dungy, the team’s head coach at the time, embraced all his players, not only the starters. Indeed, prior to the AFC championship, he implored his veterans to take care of the practice roster members and took up a collection for them to display their appreciation. According to Davis, some on the practice roster pocketed as much as $30,000.
“Being around coach Dungy, you were treated like a top guy, no matter who you are,” Davis said. “He always stressed you were part of the team.”
Davis realizes his Als fate probably rests with Saturday afternoon’s final pre-season game, against Toronto, at Molson Stadium. Having recently tweaked his groin, he’s somewhat concerned he won’t be able to lay it all on the line against the Argonauts. But he hopes he has displayed enough talent to stick around as an insurance policy.
“I know it’s the last game and you have to make an impression,” he said. “It’s all up to me. I have to play fast and smart, without hurting myself.”