By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
When trying to launch any career, what could be better than having a close friend or family member already in that line of work? Robert Davis finds himself in that fortunate position. The Georgia State wide receiver, who is among those hoping to hear his name called during the 2017 NFL Draft, is the cousin of Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis.
The Davis cousins, who are 12 years apart in age (Robert is 22, Thomas 34), grew up about two hours apart in southern Georgia. In 2005, at the age of 10, Robert watched as Thomas was selected by the Panthers out of the University of Georgia with the 14th overall pick. That moment affected the way he began to visualize his own future.
“I’ve been playing football since I was four or five-years-old,” Robert said. “Since I started playing it was always my dream to make it into the NFL, but what Thomas was able to do for me was to show me it was possible. As you get older dreams seem out of reach. He made it seem possible.”
Ironically, Thomas was inspired by the legacy of Robert’s father (also named Robert), who Thomas described as having been, “One of the best football players in our area,” and who went on to star at Fort Valley State. The elder Robert never played professionally, but instead went on to a career in law enforcement, working as a deputy sheriff.
Robert was what he described as “a late bloomer.” Although he had hoped to follow in Thomas’ footsteps and go to Georgia, the only scholarship offer he received was from Georgia State. It was there that his raw talent was honed, and he excelled.
“God blessed me with natural athletic ability,” Robert said. “But it was me doing a lot of hard work and trying to fine-tune things and work on the finer details. I really had to work hard to get to the point where I was at. I never expected anything to be handed to me. I had to push and grind and grit to get where I am today.”
That hard work – including completing his degree in Kinesiology in just three-and-a-half years – resulted in him gaining the attention of scouts at this year’s NFL Combine. It was a level Thomas knew his cousin could achieve.
“His upside is his size and his speed. His speed is something that you really can’t measure,” Thomas said. “When you look at some of the guys around the league, there’s only one guy who comes to mind and that’s (Atlanta Falcons wide receiver) Julio Jones. When you look at the measurables of what Julio did at his Combine, it’s very similar to what Robert did. Based strictly on the numbers, he has the potential to be like that someday if the teams give him the chance to develop into the player I know he can be.”
And it was Thomas that provided much of the motivation and inspiration to Robert and his development thus far.
“We were close growing up and I’ve stayed in contact with him,” Robert said. “He would always motivate me and give me words of encouragement. Thomas has been really outstanding every step of the way. Making sure everything is going OK with me and that I don’t make mistakes. He’s made sure my head is on right.”
Robert’s parents also played a big role. With a father in law enforcement and a mother who is a warden at a men’s prison, good behavior, hard work and adhering to rules was expected.
“My dad is really proud,” Robert said. “And that’s one of my biggest driving forces. To see how proud I made him with my small accomplishments drives me and motivates me. The strict parenting, now I appreciate it when I see the mistakes I didn’t make that some of my friends made. They were strict on me when they needed to be. Me and my parents are best friends.”
With the hurdles he’s already faced, Davis is looking forward to the Draft and is ready for whatever happens next.
“Coming from a situation in high school where you weren’t the star player, that taught me it wasn’t about me, you have to be a team player,” Robert said. “It’s been a long journey. I had a lot of sleepless nights in high school wondering if I was even going to get a scholarship. For me [the waiting] is not all that hard because I’ve gone through it before. Now I’ve got the mindset that I’m going to let it play out and wherever I end up, I end up.”
He has had a little more help from Thomas who has been unabashedly lobbying everyone in the Panthers organization from head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman to the position coaches and scouts. In fact, Thomas has picked the brains of the Panthers’ wide receiving staff, passing along tips and suggestions from them to Robert.
Now the Davis family must wait and see.
“We have a big family and we’re a very family-oriented group,” Thomas said. “Everyone’s going to be tuned in, and watching, and praying.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.