The event, held annually, prepares high school football players for life after the game and was especially meaningful for tight end Vernon Davis, who returned as a mentor after attending 14 years ago as a teenager. *
Vernon Davis vaguely remembered coming to FedExField as a Dunbar High School football captain. The year was 2002 and the event was “4th & Life Football Forum,” preparing student athletes for life outside of and after the game.
Nearly 14 years later, the tight end’s journey, which began right off Georgia Ave, and included pit stops at the University of Maryland, the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos, came full circle. On Monday, Davis returned to FedExField’s club level, this time as a mentor and member of the Washington Redskins, offering advice to more than 400 local high school football players, whose dreams he once shared and, ultimately, fulfilled.
“It is surreal, it is. Just being here in Washington D.C., in general, just being back here as a Redskin,” Davis said. “I’m very familiar with these kids and how they grew up, because I grew up in this environment, even though it’s changed drastically, but there’s still some synergy there with the kids and Iin so many different ways. So to be here and support these kids and giving back in general is always a plus and is major, it really is.”
Conjuring some of those memories was Davis’ high school football coach, Craig Jefferies, now a coach for Oxon Hill High School, who greeted his former star athlete with a hug and handshake. The annual “4th & Life Football Forum,” hosted by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and presented by Coca-Cola, has been a staple in Jefferies’ season-long curriculum. The proof of its success sat on stage in front of his players.
“He’s a great example for these kids because he walked the streets of D.C. like they walk the streets of the DMV,” Jefferies said of Davis. “He’s actually lived some of the roles that they go through. It’s changed my view of kids, because a lot of times you say, well, don’t set your goals as high as the NFL. Well, it’s a reality if you put the work in.
“I’m not surprised at where he ended up, what he’s doing. I’m proud of what he’s doing, what he’s accomplished, but he’s a better person than he is a football player, he’s a very committed person.”
Joining Davis were teammates Houston Bates, Anthony Lanier II and Colt McCoy, each of whom shared wisdom about their time in high school -- their struggles, their regrets, their encouragement, their stories. Rick “Doc” Walker, like he does each year, introduced them individually and captured the entire audience’s attention with his strong, inspiring rhetoric.
He spoke loudly and passionately, remembering how he turned around his life in high school and figured out a plan to take his life seriously. “Teachers and coaches are the most underrated jobs in the country,” he told the older adults in the audience, before quoting a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson and sending each grade level into its respective breakout sessions to engage in more dialogue.
Setting up throughout various places in FedExField, each player led a group discussion about topics related to his assigned age group. Freshmen tagged along with Lanier II to learn about time management and goal setting, sophomores spoke with McCoy about academic responsibility while seniors met with Bates to focus on their passions outside of football.
“You got to catch them at a young age, when they’re still trying to find themselves, you try and lead them in the right direction,” Lanier II said. “I want them to be able to say that we are human still, not just big, huge figures who don’t care about anybody else. That we care about them and they actually can be here if they work hard.”
Davis, meanwhile, led a discussion about leadership and community service with juniors, entrenched in one of the most critical years of high school as they prepare for SAT classes, college visits and their athletic futures.
Along with additional community and corporate panelists, Davis spoke about a variety of topics, moderated by staff from Junior Achievement, including his mindset as a rookie and how he’s changed in his 11 years in the league. He spoke about his own foundation, created to promote the arts and how he wished he followed his dreams as a painter in college.
“Adversity can come in so many different forms and you’ll always have to face adversity, but it’s all about perseverance,” Davis said. “You have to have the character and the determination to be able to get through it all. Adversity’s just a wallin your way and if you can make it through, you’re going to succeed. Failure is just temporary and we have to be cognizant of that, because if you can get by those little speed bumps in the road, you will make it to your final destination and there’s no telling what your final destination will be.”
The destination may not be the NFL. Just one percent of high school football players make it as a professional, which is why this event remains such a fundamental staple for students, on the verge of taking their next steps into adulthood, looking for guidance to help get them there.
“You really just want hope, you want some vision and guidance,” Jefferies said. “If I could touch you, see you, know that I can possibly do the things that you’ve done and accomplish those things, it gives you hope. It’s a reality if you work for it.”