Focus on Football, Faith Defines Elgin Boy
Big hits, touchdown runs and long passes are the plays that usually dominate football commentary.
But have you ever thought about what it takes to be a great long snapper?
Fourteen-year-old John Davis Jr. has since he was a little boy, and it's that focus that's made him one of the best long snappers for his age group in the nation.
John, an eighth-grader at Westminster Christian School in Elgin, was among 115 seventh- and eighth-graders from the United States and Canada -- and the only one from Illinois -- selected to play in the 2013 JuniorRank Academic All-American Game held Jan. 4 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. He was the long snapper and center for the U.S. East 14 and Under team.
Besides their athletic skills, players also are selected based on their work in the classroom -- they must carry a 3.0 GPA or higher -- and in their communities.
Founded in 2009, JuniorRank Sports alumni include Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day, University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Northwestern University running back Malin Jones, and University of Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell, said Terry Schilling, the organization's youth football director.
"Words cannot describe how excited I was," John, of South Elgin, said of getting JuniorRank's call during Thanksgiving break. "I thought, 'I'm going to be hitting the gym a lot.'"
Although John's team lost 18-0 to the Under 14 West team, John impressed JuniorRank's coaches with his skill and toughness.
Though he stands only 5 feet, 8 inches and weighs 155 pounds, John fearlessly helped block a powerful defensive line that averaged over 6 feet and 215 pounds, Schilling said.
"One of the coaches told me, 'The kid is very tough and competitive,'" Schilling wrote in an email. "He's the smallest kid on the line, but when he gets knocked down, he gets right back up and wants to line up again. He's the type of guy you want on your team."
Westminster Christian School middle school football head coach Rick Lanciloti said John is the best snapper he's seen in his 10 years as a coach.
"When I first saw him last year, his ability to long snap a football was just amazing to me," Lanciloti said. "His accuracy and his speed ... he snapped so hard that the quarterback in practice at first couldn't catch the ball."
Westminster finished this season 7-1 running a pistol offense that had John snapping to the quarterback standing 5 yards back.
"Through eight games last year, I can't remember one bad snap that kid made," Lanciloti said.
But John's skills go beyond long snapping.
"We were really surprised at his ability to catch a football and run a football, which he's never done before," his coach said, adding that John doesn't like to fail at anything. "In practice if he's off a little bit, he gets down on himself. He wants to be perfect every time."
John said he's indeed very focused. His attendance record is his biggest badge of honor.
"I am most proud of my five Iron Man medals for not missing any games or practices all year," he said. "That's really important to me."
Away from the gridiron, John gets As and B-pluses in school. …