University of Kansas

Words to live by: KU’s Andrew Davison says tough talk is a reflection of his past

Kansas cornerback Andrew Davison is known around the Big 12 for his bold — and sometimes inflammatory — proclamations, but he says his straightforward approach is a byproduct of his time on the streets in Detroit, as are his tattoos.
Kansas cornerback Andrew Davison is known around the Big 12 for his bold — and sometimes inflammatory — proclamations, but he says his straightforward approach is a byproduct of his time on the streets in Detroit, as are his tattoos. The Kansas City Star

Football media day has begun at Kansas, and cornerback Andrew Davison doesn’t care that he’s not invited.

As he slips through the back door of Hadl Auditorium, Davison picks up a packet of statistics and heads for a chair. But before he can sit, a flock of reporters corners him against a wall, waiting for one of his trademark quotes that will make their story worth reading.

A few feet away, media-relations director Doug Vance rolls his eyes.

“Uh-oh,” Vance whispers.

So, Andrew, what do you think of Colorado?

“Colorado?” Davison begins. “They’re a decent team, but they’re not a real good team. A lot of the top athletes they used to get, they don’t get anymore. I don’t think it would be an upset if we beat them.”

Three days later, after Colorado defeats Kansas 27-16, a Buffaloes player compares Davison’s comments to “covering yourself in blood and jumping in the ocean.”

But Davison doesn’t care. This, after all, is who he is: one of the best cover corners in the Big 12, a possible selection in this spring’s NFL draft and the guy who sends opposing coaches scrambling for thumbtacks.

“You know me, “ Davison said. “I’m not going to back down from nobody. A lot of players don’t tell the truth. Well, not me. I’m always going to tell the truth.

“The only problem is that, sometimes, the truth hurts. You’ve got to face reality.”

Reality? Davison knows all about facing reality. Just as he does with reporters and opposing receivers, Davison marches through life with a bring-it-on brashness. He has to.

How else could he have handled being shot in the arm in a drive-by shooting last January? His KU sweatshirt still bears the bullet hole.

How else could he have stomached returning to the Detroit ghetto only to see people shooting heroin in the lawns surrounding his home. And how else could he have survived as a ninth-grader, when his gang-member days with the Mad Dogs tempted him to skip classes so he could drink and smoke and roll dice and pick fights?

Davison tells these stories with a matter-of-fact, shrug-your-shoulders flippancy. To him, they’re as common as a 67-year-old’s afternoon golf outing or a trip to the hairdresser for a suburban housewife.

It’s Davison’s background, perhaps more than anything else, that explains his abrasiveness.

Sure, Davison’s bravado is cocky and arrogant and bold. But don’t you see? For him to persevere, it has to be.

Davison points to a tattoo on his left biceps.

“Drew’s World,” it reads.

Davison shakes his head and smirks.

“Believe me,” he said. “That’s a place you don’t want to go.”

“Here we go again, just like last year. There was all this hype about how good we were going to be. And now we’ve lost to a WAC team. If we’re supposed to be better, I didn’t see it.”

Davison, after Kansas’ 31-17 loss to SMU on Sept. 2, 2000

Davison isn’t embarrassed about the things he did growing up in Detroit’s inner city. In fact, as he talks about his youth, he almost sounds proud. Not just for surviving his neighborhood’s crime-infested streets, but for getting away from them.

Four of Davison’s best friends from high school, he said, have been murdered since Davison arrived at Kansas in 1997. Others have become drug dealers.

“Every time I go home, it seems like someone else is dead,” Davison said. “Detroit is nothing but a big old ghetto. Everyone there is proud of me because I’m the only one that made it, the only one that didn’t drop out of school to sell drugs.

“I’m not ashamed that I’m from there. That’s my home. But, at the same time, growing up there made me realize that I want something more.”

This is Davison’s soft side, the aspect of his character he often masks with boastful — and sometimes critical — comments and gaudy tattoos of naked women. But get Davison away from the tape recorders and television cameras, and you’ll find a soft-spoken, compassionate kid who says he’s put his days as a street thug behind him.

“I usually don’t do this … you know, open up about my life like this,” Davison said. “I usually keep my feelings inside.

“Except for a few guys I’m cool with, I really don’t have a best friend on the team. Most people just can’t relate to me.”

Davison has lived with his father, James, since he was 3. But they’ve never had a close relationship. Not once, Davison said, did James attend a football game.

Often, especially in the ninth grade, Davison skipped school to hang out on the streets. It was then that he joined the Mad Dogs, an offshoot of the infamous Bloods. Alcohol, marijuana, gambling, violence.

“I’ve been doing what I wanted to do ever since I was a kid,” Davison said. “I experienced just about everything there was to experience.”

Davison’s conduct got him kicked out of Cody High School as a freshman. He transferred across town to Chadsey High. It was there that, with no friends, Davison found football.

But even that was a challenge.

“We only had 25 guys on the team, and only about 11 of them came to practice every day,” Davison said. “Our field was basically dirt, and we really didn’t get any coaching. I learned everything by watching people like Charles Woodson on television.”

By the time Davison was a senior, colleges across the country were clamoring for his services. Davison had all but decided to go to Michigan State before switching to Kansas at the last minute.

“People always ask me, ‘Why are you at Kansas?’” Davison said. “I tell them it’s a good place for me to get away and focus.”

The more Davison thinks about his past, the more he ponders his future. He accepts Detroit as his home, for now, but he knows the riches of the NFL could provide a better life for him and his daughter, Asianae, who turns 3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Davison dreams of making money — but not for himself.

“I could care less if I have a dime,” Davison said. “I grew up poor, so it really doesn’t matter to me if I have money. I want to help other people — my daughter, my mom and dad and grandmom. I see the families of these other players making road trips. My family can’t afford to do that. It hurts sometimes.

“I just want to make enough money so they can be well off.”

“It’s a good win and all. But I don’t think we’ll get respect until we beat a good team.”

Davison, after KU’s victory over Missouri on Oct. 14, 2000.

“Andrew Davison,” UCLA coach Bob Toledo said, “is as good of a cornerback as we’ll see all season.”

Quite a remark from the coach of the nation’s seventh-ranked team. But Davison, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, has earned it.

Aside from Texas’ Roy Williams - who burned Davison for 180 yards last fall — Davison has stymied the top receiver on every team the Jayhawks have faced over the last two years. Oklahoma’s Antwone Savage? Three catches for 20 yards. Colorado’s Javon Green? Four catches, 40 yards. Missouri’s Justin Gage (4-46) and UCLA’s Brian Poli-Dixon (3-41) were all but invisible against Davison, who will make his 31st consecutive start against Oklahoma on Saturday.

“He understands the game as well as anyone,” KU defensive coordinator Tom Hayes. “He loves football, and he studies it relentlessly. And he practices just as well as he plays.”

“If Andrew was 6 feet 1,” said KU coach Terry Allen, “he’d be a first-round draft pick.”

Pro scouts are taking notice. Dick Moseley, KU’s assistant director for football operations, says Davison is one of the most inquired-about players on KU’s roster. Even if he isn’t drafted, Davison’s coaches think he’ll get a shot as a free agent.

“It’s not just about what he’s doing on the field, it’s what he’s doing off it,” Moseley said. “He doesn’t miss class, and he’s never late for meetings or tutoring sessions.”

On weekends, Davison attends high school football games or stays in his room at Jayhawker Towers. He lives on campus for convenience. The only car Davison ever owned was stolen on a trip home to Detroit.

“Things are getting serious for me now,” Davison said. “I don’t want to go out and get drunk on my off days. I’ve got to stay in shape and take care of business. I’ve got big plans after the season.”

“Colorado’s receivers don’t look all that good. They’re overrated year after year.”

Davison, three days before KU’s game against the Buffaloes on Sept. 22, 2001.

An hour before he took the field against Colorado on Sept. 22, Davison was approached by Hayes in the locker room. Hayes was holding a copy of the article in which Davison ripped the Buffaloes.

“I told him that I coached a guy that’s going to be a Hall of Fame cornerback in (Washington’s) Darrell Green,” Hayes said. “I told them that if Green knew what he’d said, he’d tell him, ‘Hey rookie, let your play speak for itself.’

“I think Drew took that to heart.”

Hayes can only hope.

As much as big talk and swagger kept Davison safe in Detroit, his candor has hurt his reputation among those who don’t know him. If he’s not downplaying the talent of his opponent, he’s calling out his teammates for a lack of effort.

He’s questioned the hiring tactics of his head coach and, last year, anointed himself “the best cornerback in the Big 12.” Recently, Davison toned that down to “one of the best.”

“Andrew’s only fault is that he’s too honest sometimes,” said Vance, who coordinates KU’s player interviews. “He expresses himself in a manner that we prefer he wouldn’t.”

Davison said he doesn’t see why people raise such a fuss over his remarks.

“What am I supposed to do, lie?” Davison said. “I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m just trying to be real.”

Davison’s comments have been frustrating for Allen. But the fifth-year head coach isn’t about to make Davison off limits to the news media. If anything, Allen appreciates the attitude.

“Some people say corner is the loneliest position on the football field,” Allen said. “You have to have confidence, or you’re going to get beat. Andrew definitely has that confidence.

“I’m not about to curtail his spirit.”

After all, Allen said, with what Davison has been through, that spirit is pretty remarkable.

“I don’t want people to look at me like I’m a bad person because I come from the ghetto or because I did bad things when I was in the ninth grade,” Davison said. “That stuff is still back there when I go home, but I’m past it.

“I know where I’m going now.”