José Luis Villegas /

Sacramento State linebacker Todd Davis Jr. chases a ballcarrier during practice Thursday. The senior ranks among the Hornets' top 10 all-time tacklers. He mans the middle this year.

Todd Davis Jr., Sacramento State linebacker, mentors on and off football field

Published: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 3:42 pm

Senior middle linebacker Todd Davis Jr., Sacramento State's defensive leader, is a 6-foot-1, 250-pound punishing force.

Entering today's game against Southern Oregon at Hornet Stadium, Davis is four tackles from moving into ninth place on Sac State's career list.

Davis, who has led the Hornets in tackles the last two seasons, has 233 total, three behind former Hornets standout Camron Mbewa (Mira Loma).

"I try not to think too much about that stuff," Davis said. "I think people who get caught up into stats wind up doing more than they're supposed to, and it can affect their game."

Davis' style of play is aggressive, physical and single-minded, but he's not afraid to shed his gladiator mentality and show a more nuanced side when he's off the field.

Once, when Davis got an expensive bike for a birthday present, he returned it to get two less-expensive bikes, one for himself and one for his younger sister, Kiersten, now a freshman at Cal State Northridge.

"I don't know if Todd would like me telling this, but when his sister was little and had no one to play with, he'd sit and play tea time with her," said Karen Davis, Todd's mother. "Todd's always watching out for her."

Before he got heavily into football and became an all-state player at Lancaster's Paraclete High School, Davis acted in commercials and community and school plays.

"He was such a character," Karen Davis said. "He'd dance, tell jokes, make up songs, all kinds of crazy things. He was a one-person show."

Said Todd: "I still love acting. For an hour or so, you get to portray a character that's not you but that you get to make your own."

After teammate John Bloomfield became ill during a game against New Mexico State last season and later died of lung complications, Davis quietly took on Bloomfield's role as the team's spiritual leader, though he says Bloomfield's shoes truly can't be filled.

"John and I were real close, so I think about him all the time," Davis said. "Everybody in the locker room has a story about how John encouraged them.

"His death has made everyone on the team cherish every moment we have on this earth. You've got to treat people right. You've got to do things right while you're here so you leave an honorable legacy, just as John did."

When Davis returns home and visits his parents' church in Mojave – Todd Davis Sr. is the pastor – the former high school honors student asks younger members of the congregation what's on their minds. He talks to them about the importance of staying in school and being good role models for their peers.

"Todd's been a big inspiration to the community, but not just because he's a football player," Karen Davis said. "Our church is in a very rural area. Many of the children have no idea what college is because their parents have never attended.

"Two years ago, we brought 15 children through the church up to Oakland for a college fair, then took them to Sacramento. They all crammed into Todd's apartment with his roommates (and teammates) Derek Stickney and Henry Fernandez."

They toured the Sac State campus and the Capitol, and the children also spent time hanging out with a group of football players, she said.

"Those guys spent the whole time mentoring those kids," Karen Davis said.

That mentoring hasn't ended.

Davis moved from outside to middle linebacker and calls the defensive plays. He's helping freshman Russell Smith (Del Oro) adapt to his former position while also giving insight to his middle linebacker backup, Cole Hannum (Nevada Union), another freshman.

"Todd has really been a big help with his experience," said Smith, who had a team-high 14 tackles, including 10 solo, in their Sept. 5 loss at Arizona State. "I played defensive back in high school, so he's helping make a tough transition a little easier."

Davis sees a lot of himself in Smith, having switched from defensive lineman as a freshman to linebacker as a sophomore.

"I sympathize with him because I remember how green I was at that position as a sophomore," Davis said. "I try to keep him level-headed and calm out there. He knows the calls, his responsibilities. I just want to make sure he has enough confidence to execute them.

"I think he's doing well. Fourteen tackles, that's a big game for anyone."

Despite living in Southern California, Davis' parents regularly attend Sac State home games, often bringing several friends and congregates from the Mojave Assembly of God Church.

"We usually leave at 5 in the morning and get there in time to tailgate with some of the (players') families," said Karen Davis, who will be a rare no-show today because of a church-related function in Washington, D.C.

Their usual routine is to root for the Hornets, talk to Todd for 20 minutes or so after the game, then drive five hours and 300-plus miles to Mojave in time for Todd Sr. to deliver his Sunday-morning sermon.

"I feel very blessed," Todd Davis Jr. said. "My parents definitely make a sacrifice for me."


Where: Hornet Stadium (21,195)

Time: 6:05 p.m.

TV: None

Radio: 1380

Raiders at a glance: The NAIA power from Ashland, Ore., looking to knock off a higher-division team in the Hornets, has one of the top offenses in the country. The Raiders set an NAIA record last season by averaging 642 yards per game, including 449 through the air. Quarterback Austin Dodge returns, and the Raiders, despite losses to Rocky Mountain College and Montana Western, are averaging 518 yards. Dylan Young, a 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver, is tied for the NAIA lead in catches (19) and ranks fifth in receiving yards (305). "It's exciting for our kids to play a Big Sky (Conference) school because a lot of them wanted to play at that level," Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard said. "… It's a great opportunity for us to improve." The last time Southern Oregon faced a Big Sky foe, it lost 52-0 at Portland State in 2011.

Hornets at a glance: Sacramento State is desperate for a better showing after being blanked by San Jose State (24-0) and Arizona State (55-0), two Football Bowl Subdivision schools. The Hornets have averaged 223 yards while allowing 445, have turned over the ball six times while not getting a turnover and have missed all three field-goal attempts. "One of the good things is we have hung together," Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "The kids have played hard throughout despite the scores." Freshman linebacker Russell Smith, one of two underclass starters on the defense, leads the team in tackles with 19, including 14 against Arizona State.

• Series: Sac State leads 5-1. The Hornets' 7-6 win in 1955 was the program's first football victory. The teams last played in 2008, with the Hornets winning 27-16. Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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