By the time Donnie Davis rose to his senior year in 1990-91 at Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C., the star quarterback was on the radar of every major college coach in the country.
Soon, immersed in the thick of aggressive recruiting campaigns, the 18-year-old was being courted with school visits marked by stays at high-end hotels and expensive private dinners, including one featuring caviar and similar high-end food items.
By the time DeAnn Davis rose to her senior year at Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C., the star track field athlete who was national champion in the triple jump and the younger sister of Donnie Davis, was being heavily courted by colleges around the country.
In the thick of recruiting campaigns she made several college visits. In contrast to her brother’s experience, her visits were marked by choices of which bed in one of the student dormitories she wanted to sleep in and a lot of time to share meals in the student cafeteria with potential fellow classmates.
The recruiting experience of the brother and sister high school star athletes could not have been more different, they say, having compared notes over the years about their journeys to college from high school.
Donnie Davis found himself isolated from the real world of college from the start, an experience he says frustrated his ability to prepare for the real world after college. He never stayed on the campus of the college recruiting him during his visits. He never ate in the regular student cafeteria. He was promised the best of academic support, if needed.
DeAnn Davis faced the real world from the start, from dorm life during her campus visits to having regular cafeteria food with the general student population. While the brother’s potential coaches lathered him with praise and marketing pitches about their schools, she was politely advised on more than one occasion how lucky she should feel to be courted by a particular school as there were more prospects where she came from.
“They walked him through the dorms,” the younger Davis recalls with a laugh. “I stayed in the dorms.”
In retrospect, the brother and sister consider his experience “extravagant” and hers more “fair” and “realistic,” noting that recruiting disparities continue to this day (more than a decade after they were recruited) and continue to constitute a major disservice to male recruits.
“I feel like my experience was fair in terms of giving me an accurate view of what college would be like,” says DeAnn Davis, now DeAnn Davis Brooks. She works with the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport. Referring to the recruiting “perks” lavished upon her brother, she says her “perk” was knowing that she was competitive.
“They spared no expense,” recalls Donnie Davis, who eventually chose Georgia Tech over offers from his final list that included Penn State, Notre Dame and the University of Miami. The schools respected the rules of the NCAA in recruiting, he notes, hastening to add, “They took that to the limit.”
Donnie Davis, now business development representative for Manheim Automotive, says the kind of recruiting he was accorded and the kind many high school stars are treated to today is “really just sad,” as it does very little to prepare the young men, many of whom will never graduate or realize their dreams of being a high-paid professional athlete, for the real adult world.
“Ninety-five percent of the kids going into that (college recruitment) don’t understand what they’re getting into,” says Donnie, asserting that his wife, once a college athlete, and sister, DeAnn, “were much more prepared for the real world,” in part because they were not given rose-colored glasses through which to see the college world and beyond as high school students.
Donnie Davis, who is collaborating on an educational website (www.dinao.org) that will counsel aspiring college athletes, says he never sampled the caviar on his trip. However, he advises current and future recruits to sample it while they can.
“Give it a shot, try it,” he says. “Things will change.”