Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The speech is inevitable, a pattern of words so familiar among parents and children that the question isn’t if it must be delivered but how often.
"Stay in school, because academics are one of the most important things in life," Andra Davis tells his three daughters, Alisha, 11, Amber, 8, and Andrea, 5. The only problem was that Davis, a 10-year NFL veteran who’s currently a free agent, didn’t have the degree to back it up.
“It’s easy for me to tell them you need to do this or do that, but if I didn’t finish, they could have been like, ‘Daddy, you didn’t finish school and you’re successful,’ ” he said.
After Saturday, Davis will never have to face questions about not practicing what he's preaching.
Though he attended school at the University of Florida, Davis, a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, will officially graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences at UNLV’s afternoon ceremony. It was made possible by former UNLV football academic adviser Janice Henry, whose company JD Consulting Group specializes in helping professional athletes complete their college degrees.
Henry helped Randall Cunningham finish his studies at UNLV in 2004, and she also helped Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon complete his degree at the University of Southern California in 2006. Learning about McCutcheon's achievement was the first step for Davis, 33, who also discussed finishing his academics with former Browns and UNLV assistant coach Andre Patterson.
Another thing pushing Davis was the realization that football, his first love and essentially his job since college, wasn’t going to last forever. Davis was an All-Southeastern Conference performer at Florida and a 2011 recipient of the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award, which is given to players who exemplify inspiration, sportsmanship and courage, as decided by their teammates. He hopes to continue playing this season, but if the call doesn’t come, Davis is more comfortable with his plans to become an assistant college or high school coach now that he will have his degree.
“It was like, ‘OK, well, I need to have something to fall back on in case (playing) football doesn’t work out," Davis said. “When I was younger, my first few years, I used to think I was invincible. As you get older, you start to see your skills diminishing, and along with kids and a wife, you start to have a different focus.”
After getting in touch with Henry, Davis started taking classes in 2010. His first choice would have been to finish his academic career at Florida, but the school’s policy with former athletes was to have them complete their studies on campus. That didn’t work for Davis, who had just finished what would be his only season in Denver, so he selected UNLV because he could do the work online and any in-person visits with advisers were only a short flight away.
His plans were delayed that offseason, though, when Davis was released by the Broncos and then signed a two-year deal with the Bills. For someone trying to get back into academics nearly a decade after attending school, the change in environment made it difficult to complete the work as quickly as he would have liked.
But Davis remembered all of the reasons he began working toward his degree again and made sure that he didn’t give up. He once had chosen to leave school a semester early in order to prepare for the NFL draft, a decision that paid off with a fifth-round selection. He believed this decision, likewise, would pay off down the road.
Davis is making his graduation a Mother’s Day surprise for his mom, Kaffa Owens, a schoolteacher at Suwannee Middle School in Florida. The revelation will probably be in the form of a picture from the ceremony. His five-member family came to Las Vegas from Denver, but bringing his mom and his two sisters from Florida on top of that would have been difficult.
Owens might be mad that she wasn’t there, Davis said, but she will be proud of his achievement — just like his wife, Monique, and daughters, who on Thursday gave him a pen set inscribed with his initials and Class of 2012.
Monique, who has known Davis since they were in 10th grade, completed her degree online last year. Now, Davis is poised to become a degree holder, too.
On Saturday, he’ll put on a different kind of jersey and put more validation behind those speeches to his daughters.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Davis said. “We were debating whether I was going to come back and walk or not, but I think it will be something that the kids definitely should see.”