South Elgin teen makes all-star football team
Big hits, touchdown runs and long passes are the plays that usually dominate football commentary.
But have you ever thought about what it takes to be a great long snapper?
John Davis Jr.
Hometown: South Elgin
School: Westminster Christian School in Elgin
Who inspires you? Actor Morgan Freeman, because he can really tell a story. Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly, because he inspires me to be a better football player.
What's on your iPod? I listen to music on my iPhone. I have a lot of Dubstep, mainly Skrillex, and a little bit of rap.
What book are you reading? "Through My Eyes" by Tim Tebow, with Nathan Whitaker.
The three words that best describe you? Funny. Sensitive. Spiritual.
Fourteen-year-old John Davis Jr. has since he was a little boy, and it's that focus that's made him one of the best long snappers for his age group in the nation.
John, an eighth-grader at Westminster Christian School in Elgin, was among 115 seventh- and eighth-graders from the United States and Canada — and the only one from Illinois — selected to play in the 2013 JuniorRank Academic All-American Game held Jan. 4 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. He was the long snapper and center for the U.S. East 14 and Under team.
Besides their athletic skills, players also are selected based on their work in the classroom — they must carry a 3.0 GPA or higher — and in their communities.
Founded in 2009, JuniorRank Sports alumni include Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day, University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Northwestern University running back Malin Jones, and University of Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell, said Terry Schilling, the organization's youth football director.
"Words cannot describe how excited I was," John, of South Elgin, said of getting JuniorRank's call during Thanksgiving break. "I thought, 'I'm going to be hitting the gym a lot.'"
Although John's team lost 18-0 to the Under 14 West team, John impressed JuniorRank's coaches with his skill and toughness.
Though he stands only 5 feet, 8 inches and weighs 155 pounds, John fearlessly helped block a powerful defensive line that averaged over 6 feet and 215 pounds, Schilling said.
"One of the coaches told me, 'The kid is very tough and competitive,'" Schilling wrote in an email. "He's the smallest kid on the line, but when he gets knocked down, he gets right back up and wants to line up again. He's the type of guy you want on your team."
Westminster Christian School middle school football head coach Rick Lanciloti said John is the best snapper he's seen in his 10 years as a coach.
"When I first saw him last year, his ability to long snap a football was just amazing to me," Lanciloti said. "His accuracy and his speed ... he snapped so hard that the quarterback in practice at first couldn't catch the ball."
Westminster finished this season 7-1 running a pistol offense that had John snapping to the quarterback standing 5 yards back.
"Through eight games last year, I can't remember one bad snap that kid made," Lanciloti said.
But John's skills go beyond long snapping.
"We were really surprised at his ability to catch a football and run a football, which he's never done before," his coach said, adding that John doesn't like to fail at anything. "In practice if he's off a little bit, he gets down on himself. He wants to be perfect every time."
John said he's indeed very focused. His attendance record is his biggest badge of honor.
"I am most proud of my five Iron Man medals for not missing any games or practices all year," he said. "That's really important to me."
Away from the gridiron, John gets As and B-pluses in school. He's improved his grades the last couple of years.
"I think being in a smaller school really helped," he said of enrolling at Westminster.
As a member of the football team, he helps out charities like Fox Valley Christian Action and Feed My Starving Children. He also volunteers for Cal's All-Star Angel Foundation, for which his mother, Taksina Davis, organizes an annual 5K in South Elgin.
He also aids a diabetic classmate every day by helping her measure her blood sugar level.
Helping others is just ... rewarding, John said.
"Some kids don't like to get up and help out. Sometimes I have that feeling, but then when I am done I feel really good about it. It's like, 'Now I have really helped someone."
Until this year, the only coach John knew was his father, John Davis, who coached him from kindergarten to sixth grade with the South Elgin Patriots. The team won the Bill George Youth Football League when John Jr. was in the fourth and sixth grades.
John Davis also coached his son in the seventh grade at Westminster Christian School, when the Westminster Warriors won their conference championship with an 8-1 record.
John Davis now coaches the high school football program at Westminster. That means he'll be his son's coach again next year.
Wearing the hats of both coach and dad is a delicate balance, John Davis said.
"I probably spend significantly less time with him than I spend with the other kids. I'm probably a lot harder on him than I am on the other kids," he said. "I always worry about not spending too much time with him or being too hard on him."
Despite his father's close involvement, John said he doesn't feel like he's ever been pushed into football.
"(My dad) treats me like any other player," he said.
John Davis said his son is very mature.
"He is very silent out on the field. Everything you ask him to do, he's the type of kid who will just do it, without giving you any flack. You can't push him too far — he'll never complain about getting pushed too far."
Besides football, faith is very important to the Davis family, who attend Christ Community Church in St. Charles.
"It's a huge part of him and our family, probably more than anything else," John Davis said.
John Jr. is clear about his goal — he wants to make it in the NFL as a long snapper.
Coach Lanciloti said he can see John making that happen.
"Given his work ethic, and his dad's drive and his drive, and their determination to succeed, I would give them a good chance," he said. "If that's his goal, I wouldn't be surprised if he got to that level."
Meanwhile, John plans to keep practicing and playing as hard as always. "I've put in a lot of effort and put in a lot of time over the years. It's really what I am best at."
• Elena Ferrarin and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.
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