Wright On: Davis football brothers are true student-athletes

  • Three of the Davis siblings at an SMU football game in Texas: From left, Nani, Pono and Paka.

Twitter has become social media invaded by foreign trolls, meaning us harm, an ongoing platform filled with ill-mannered, inelegant and irksome commentary we see on a daily basis.

But it isn’t all bad. Twitter can be a helpful, commendable and efficient source for communication .

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On our island, Twitter was the conduit that set a National Honors Society high school student and 4.0 college student on a path to the revitalized Hula Bowl All-Star game on Jan. 26 that might yet lead to an opportunity in professional football.

Pono Davis, the younger brother of Paka, comes from a family that stresses academics and athletics, two areas in which each of them excelled at Kamehameha before heading out on college opportunities.

Paka walked on at TCU, redshirted for a season, didn’t get in any games, but made the travel teams, got to attend a few bowl games and was awarded the school’s prestigious Y.Q. McCammon Outstanding Squadman award, underscoring the team’s respect for him as a teammate. He took a graduate transfer to SMU to play his senior season with Pono, a defensive tackle for the Mustangs.

Pono played for SMU after transferring from Tyler Junior College in Texas, where he received a chance after emails and a personally designed highlight package on a college recruiting website created the opportunity.

We’ve been conditioned to think junior college players are lacking in something, usually academics, but if that’s the case, Pono Davis was the exception to the rule. For his first trip, he took a flight that landed in Tyler at 4:30 am. The coach who liked him, Jessie Green, met Pono at the bus station a few minutes later. The respect, the interest, he felt when he got there was genuine. Before he left after his freshman year, he made the Dean’s list.

Neither of the Davis brothers had the financial resources to attend high school showcase events on the mainland, or on Oahu, so they created their own publicity on social media platforms, that opened doors, slightly.

“The Davis boys are both amazing young men,” said Dan Lyons, their former head coach at Kamehameha, “you know they will succeed, whatever they do. They have the temperament to continue, they know it’s not all about instant gratification, they are the kind of people who will work at whatever they do, and they will go in expecting there will be some setbacks. They will work through it and persevere and they will succeed.”

At the moment, Pono is a 305-pound defensive tackle who plays the game aggressively and, as a junior and senior, was an all-American Athletic Conference All-Academic first team member. He’s back in Dallas for a few days, checking into his master’s program in Emotional Intelligence Coaching, in part because his senior season convinced him he wasn’t done with athletics.

When he heard the Hula Bowl was starting up again after a 12-year hiatus (it started in 1946 and was held annually until 2008), he sent a tweet to Hula Bowl executive director Rich Miano, the former Kaiser High School defensive back and walk-on at the University of Hawaii who became an all-Western Athletic Conference defensive back two years running for the Rainbows before being drafted by the New York Jets in 1985, and later playing for Philadelphia and Atlanta.

That was a smart move, which should be no surprise for Pono. Apart from his own walk-on background, Miano also liked helping a Big Islander and soon extended the offer.

He knows what to do with any little opportunity, it has kind of been the backstory to the lives of the Davis brothers.

“I’m going back to get my masters,” Pono said, “they provided me the opportunity and I feel I should take everything I can.”

And the Hula Bowl?

“I just need a chance,” he said, “just an opportunity, that’s all I ever asked for.”

In that regard, he’s been working out at IMUA Iron under the direction of Darren Elisaga and with Kaluka Maiava, the head coach of Hawaii Prep, who played at USC and for the Browns and Raiders in the NFL.

The Hula Bowl isn’t the most prestigious bowl after being shuttered for so long, but it is the last of the all-star games this year, and will have scouts from the NFL, from the new XFL that will start next month and from the Canadian Football League, where some Hall of Famers, like quarterback Warren Moon, got their professional starts.

The Hula Bowl ends the first chapter on the eligible draftees annual job applications for a professional career in football. Next comes the Combine, and invitation-only event, then personal workouts before the draft. The Hula Bow seems to fit the Pono Profile.

“I guess this will be like my Senior Bowl,” he said. “It’s an opportunity, it’s a chance.”

He is one of those people as comfortable talking about applied physiology as he is getting after a double A blocking scheme on the football field, a true double threat, one could say.

Talk about an opportunist, get this from his high school days:

“We played two platoon football,” Lyons said, “that was the system, you played offense or you played defense. In Pono’s junior and senior years, we were tremendously an up-tempo team, we had many games where we’d get in 100 plays or more.

“Pono was a defensive lineman, played some nose tackle and some defensive end, but everyone always gives people some reps on the other side of the ball, in case there are injuries or what have you, and we did that with Pono.”

He couldn’t recall the opponent, but Lyons looked out after a defensive stop and saw Pono playing left tackle. He went down the sideline to offensive line coach Manly Kanoa, and asked what was going on.

“I’m the head coach, right?” Lyons said, “and the offensive coordinator, so on the first play, I see Pono out there and I had to wonder what happened. Manly said, ‘He just ran out there, and I’m not fast enough to catch him or strong enough to pull him off the field.’”

Pono played both sides, or maybe 150-175 plays a game?

“Oh yeah,” Lyons said, “he played all the time.”

He didn’t just play, Pono was all-BIIF first team, offense and defense.

His brother Paka made his own path, a year earlier.

“(Paka) left here, walked on at TCU and made the travel squad,” Lyons said. “That tells you something, when you don’t really get in games but they take you wherever they go.

“He came back on a break or something as a freshman and I asked where he was playing, and he said,’DE.’

“I said, ‘No, you’re not,’ he said, ‘Coach, I’m playing DE down there,’ and I told him again, ‘No, you’re not, you’re playing GPA.’”

Of course, Lyons was right. Your 4.0 students who work hard in every practice and battle your starters? It not only improves the team’s overall GPA, which factors into recruiting and scholarship retention as a program, but when they are your best example of what it means to be a good teammate and get it done in the classroom as well as in practice?

Coaches take those guys everywhere they go. You never want to be in a team situation without your best teammate.

“They are great examples,” Lyons said, “to everyone. I always told kids, ‘You may not be the fastest or the strongest, but whatever it is, find out what you do best and use that advantage, get your foot in the door, and then show them what you can do.

“I don’t know what Pono will do (at the Hula Bowl),” Lyons said, “I don’t know if some scout will see something and give him an opportunity, but if he does? I would never bet against him.”

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