Shabari Davis had a football in his hands since he was a toddler just learning to walk.
The Garden City native grew up to be one of the top high school athletes in the Coastal Empire as he starred with the Groves football, basketball and track and field teams.
Davis, who graduated from Groves in 2015, signed to play football at Garden City Community College in Kansas and made the move to join one of the top junior college teams in the country.
Things didn’t work out as he planned there, but Davis kept his head down — doing well in the classroom and serving as a scout team quarterback. He never made it onto the field in a game for Broncbusters.
But his love for the game never diminished, and his dream never died.
Davis earned a scholarship offer from Southeast Missouri State and became a standout cornerback and return man at the FCS program, setting several school records along the way.
On May 1, Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars at the age of 25.
“I knew I was a great player and what I was capable of,” Davis said in a phone interview. “I never doubted myself, I knew I just had to wait for my turn.”
Davis had confidence because he had played with Lonnie Johnson, now a cornerback with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Mike Hughes, now a cornerback with the Detroit Lions, during his time at Garden City Community College.
“We were stacked at Garden City,” Davis said. “And when I got there I was competing with more than 200 players to be one of 60 out-of-state players on the roster. In high school, I was always the best athlete and had never really learned a position. I finally did at SE Missouri.”
Davis was granted four years of playing eligibility at SE Missouri and became a student of the game at corner under defensive back coach Ray Smith.
He hadn’t played in a game since high school, but got on the field as a freshman in a game at Kansas and made an interception.
“I hadn’t played in two years, so I had a lot of jitterbugs,” Davis said. “But coach Smith helped me a lot and I caught on quick.”
As a senior, the 6-foot, 193-pound Davis was a second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference pick as a punt returner. He set records at SEMO for most punt return yards in a career and was the only player in school history to score touchdowns on a kick return, punt return and interception return in his career.
Davis has a stellar showing at his pro day as he registered a vertical jump of 39 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet — both marks that would have been ranked in the top five at the NFL combine. He ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds.
Davis is set to report to the Jaguars’ rookie mini-camp on Thursday, May 12.
“I always had the mindset that a school doesn’t make you, but you make the school,” Davis said. “When I played at Groves, I could have transferred to a private school or one of the top public schools, but I didn’t want to follow the bandwagon. I wanted to make a name for myself. Then when I got to college, I had to do more coming from a small school and show that you can make it from anywhere if you’re good.”
Seeing, realizing his potential
Groves boys basketball coach and athletic director Kevin Evans has known Davis since he was a high school freshman. He’s good friends with Davis and is proud of the player and person he’s become.
“I saw the potential he had as an athlete right away,” Evans said. “By the time he was a senior, he was like a little brother to me. He would cut my hair, and I can tell you he’s just as good with a hair clipper as he is on the football field.
“Shabari is proud to be from Garden City, and he lets folks know where he came from. He’s giving kids from Garden City and Groves hope. They look at him and say ‘If Shabari can do it, I can do it, too.’ “
Shabari’s mother, Zanzie Reid, hasn’t been able to see Shabari play since his high school days at Groves, as she is raising her younger children. She can’t wait to see him get his chance with the Jaguars.
“Shabari is a very humble person,” Reid said. “He’s persistent and has always been determined to do his best in whatever he does. He cares about people, and I’m very proud of what he accomplished getting his college education. He lives and breathes football and has never missed a workout or practice in his life. He’s excited about signing with the Jaguars and I’m so happy he’s getting a chance to do what he loves to do best.”
While football is his first love, Davis knew the importance of a free education. He earned an associate’s degree in science, a bachelor’s in general studies and is close to earning a master’s in higher education.
“I got those degrees and those degrees are power, that was important to me,” Davis said. “When I got that call from Jacksonville, it was a blessing. I was speechless and thinking ‘This is really happening.’ I’m going to get the opportunity to play on Sundays, and all the hard work I’ve put in is paying off. I think it’s really going to hit me when I get to camp. I’ll be ready to prove myself because I’ve been an underdog my whole life.”
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at [email protected]. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Shabari Davis, Garden City native and Groves alum, gets NFL chance