Born and bred in the District, Vernon Davis talks art, changes and jerky as he returns to play for his hometown team.
In the security line for Nationals Park’s luxury suites, a fan looks over at the smiling, 6-foot-3 man making small talk with the guards in front of him.
“Is that Vernon Davis?” he asks with trepidation once the local football star has moved on, gesturing.
It is Davis, of course, and now he’s back in town to play at last.
“It’s quite a treat,” the newly-minted Washington Redskins tight end told Washington Life. “And I say that because it’s been a long time since I’ve been back here.”
Davis was a four-star recruit out of Washington’s Dunbar High School and played football at the University of Maryland before joining the San Francisco 49ers as the nation’s sixth overall draft pick in 2006. He played with the 49ers for nearly a decade before a short Superbowl-winning stint with the Denver Broncos.
Now, the District native is finally with his local team, signing with the Redskins on a one-year contract.
“It’s been a lifelong dream for me, just playing here in my hometown where I grew up,” Davis said. “From the time I was born, that was all I would see: Washington Redskins logos and banners — everyone was all about the Redskins. It didn’t happen when I got drafted – but now it’s happening. To be able to come back here and play in front of my family and friends and everyone that knows me is truly a blessing.”
But while the people may be the same, the city is different. “So much has changed,” Davis said. “I mean gentrification.” And while “there’s so much going on in Washington, D.C., right now,” Davis’s neighborhood is “completely different. It feels like I’m in a totally different place,” he said.
Navigating that different place has been an adventure, and Davis has already found a few spots that pique his fancy. Mix Bar and Grille in Silver Spring, Md., is a new favorite that also earned a shout-out to Davis’s million-plus Twitter followers.
Now that he’s in the neighborhood of his alma mater, Davis also said he intends to liaise with the Maryland Terrapins football team and their new head coach, DJ Durkin.
“I plan on cultivating a relationship there with the new head coach and just being involved as much as I possibly can,” he said.
Other local involvement will come through his philanthropic efforts. The football star has plans to connect with local charities and give back to his community.
“The moment I stepped into D.C., I created a great partnership with [the] National Center for Children and Families,” he said, referring to a charity that houses homeless youth and families, among other services. Davis praised their “state of the art” campus and work. He also discussed speaking to local schools about the hard work behind his success.
These ventures are in addition to his work with the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts, which promotes arts education and appreciation for disadvantaged youth through scholarships and other efforts.
“We envision cities where art can be vital to social development,” Davis said. “There will be no more anxiety and peer pressure and stress. Through the arts, these kids can strive for greatness. They can reach heights that they’ve never imagined.”
Davis’s passion for the arts — communicated in part by his study of studio art at Maryland — also informs how he looks at football.
“Any player, they’re still on the field until they can paint a pretty picture of whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish. When I’m in front of a canvas, I don’t want to leave that canvas until I complete whatever I’m working on. And the same goes for football. There’s art in everything,” he said, looking around the slowly-filling baseball stadium and highlighting its architecture as an example.
He was at the stadium as part of an endorsement deal with Krave Jerky, an all-natural brand that boasts its gourmet style and suggests wine pairings with its flavors.
“Today is National Jerky Day!” Davis said with genuine wonder. “Can you believe that!? … I didn’t know there was such a thing!”
Davis — whose favorite Krave flavor is Black Cherry Barbecue — has been eating this brand of jerky for four years and enjoys its convenience, health value and protein. Krave planned to dole out 25,000 bags of its jerky to mark the occasion, and stadium chefs spiced up the food in Davis’s suite (standard Nats fare including mac and cheese, wings and enchiladas) with its products.
Speaking a stone’s throw from the Capitol dome, though, Davis declined to make an entirely different endorsement, saying he doesn’t know whom to support in the presidential race.
“Growing up in D.C., you would probably think that I wanted to become a politician one day,” he said. “But I never really had a chance to indulge in it. I can have all the opinions in the world, [but] no matter what I say, I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t figure it out.”