New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis (56) of Brandon watches the action during an NFL game against the Carolina Panthers, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C.

Brandon’s Demario Davis plays linebacker for the New Orleans Saints with such a burst of speed he often seems shot out of a cannon. You’d think people would notice.

People should. Davis is the only NFL linebacker with at least 100 tackles, five quarterback sacks and 10 quarterback hits headed into this last weekend of the regular season. He has been one of the best players on one of the league’s best defenses.

And yet you won’t find his name on the Pro Bowl rosters that were announced Christmas week.

“That’s really been the storyline of my life,” Davis said in a phone conversation Thursday. “I’ve always flown under the radar – all the way back to high school.”

Rick Cleveland

It’s true. As a senior at Brandon, Davis wasn’t chosen for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game. He did not have a single Southeastern Conference scholarship offer. He was a two-star recruit. He chose Arkansas State over Southern Miss.

That seems especially odd now when you see him, chiseled at 6 feet, 2 inches and 252 pounds, blow past an NFL offensive lineman before the guy can come out of his stance.

A two-star recruit? How is that possible?

Davis laughs at the question. And this is where his story really gets interesting.

“Part of it was on me,” Davis said. “I got into some trouble in high school my 10th grade year.”


“I stole a kid’s wallet, got kicked out of school,” Davis said. “I was expelled, had to finish my sophomore year in reform school.”

He returned to Brandon as a junior, but was hardly in the good graces of his coaches. He played wide receiver on a team that mostly ran the ball. As a senior, he moved to linebacker and his career began to take shape.

And then?

“At Arkansas State, my freshman year, I got arrested and sent to jail,” Davis said, matter-of-factly.

His crime?

“Shoplifting at a Walmart,” Davis answered. “I did it.”

Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. When Davis eventually returned to Arkansas State, he met a man named Chuck McElroy with Campus Outreach, a Christian ministry. Davis knew he needed to change his life. McElroy offered a direction and Davis took it. “I gave my life to Christ,” Davis said.

Davis walks he walk. After moving to New Orleans last spring, Davis befriended Sam Butler, a young teen football player who was shot and partially paralyzed during Mardi Gras. This past Christmas week, Davis showed up at Butler’s house with a gift, a new, handicapped-accessible van to make it easier for the young man to make it to his doctors appointments and rehab workouts.

“They really needed it and couldn’t afford it,” Davis said. “My wife and I got involved. The car company gave us a great deal. The Saints did a matching grant. It put a smile on his face. They really, really needed it.”

Brandon High football coach Tyler Peterson says Davis has both worked out and spoken to his football team over the last couple summers and seasons.

“Demario has a special message and the guys listen to him,” Peterson said.

Said Davis, “I just put myself in their place. I think I would have appreciated hearing from a guy who had been in their shoes before and then gone on to have some success. I’ve been in that locker room. I know how they feel.”

None of this surprises former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who was the Arkansas State head coach for Davis’s senior season.

“Special, special player and person,” Freeze said of Davis. “He was everything you want in a player and a leader for us. Physically, of course, he’s a freak. His success in the NFL is no surprise to anybody who was around our team then. That Arkansas State team was the first to win 10 games and go to a bowl game in a long, long time. He was a big reason.”

The New York Jets took Davis in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He played for the Jets for four seasons, the Browns for one and then the Jets again in 2017 when he became an unrestricted free agent.

Demario Davis chases down Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in a Nov. 29 game at Dallas.

The Saints, who desperately needed help at linebacker, went after him and then signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract, $16 million of which was guaranteed.

The money is nice, but Davis said the dollars aren’t the main reason he signed with New Orleans.

“I wanted to go to a contender,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I would have a chance to win it all. New Orleans is that place. The three best quarterbacks in the league are Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. In my mind, Drew is the best of them all.”

The Saints are 13-2 and have clinched home field advantage through the playoffs.

“We have great chemistry on this defense,” Davis said. “We have really come together and played well. And, on the other side of the ball, we’ve got Drew Brees.”

The Saints finish the regular season Sunday at home against Carolina in what has become a meaningless game. Brees is expected to rest. Davis doesn’t know what his role will be.

“I am preparing this week the way I always do,” he said. “I am preparing to play.”

And does Davis think the Saints’ success, coupled with his obvious contributions, will result in more individual recognition for him?

“Maybe, we’ll see,” Davis said. “I’ll tell you this, I’m going to keep that chip on my shoulder no matter what. I’m not going to quit working until I am recognized unanimously as the best linebacker in the league. That’s just how I am.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.