By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Congratulate Davis Reynolds. The senior will not be continuing his football career in college.
Yes, you read that right. The soon-to-graduate Eagle’s Landing Christian football player once had hopes for attending college and extending his football career while there.
Instead, Reynolds, a starting safety for the 2014 Class A runner up Chargers, will be taking his talents to the University of Georgia — his academic talents, that is.
Reynolds will accept a full academic scholarship to the Athens school, taking with him a 4.24 grade point average, a 2100 SAT score and aspirations to be either a lawyer or an accountant.
But he’s still got some football in his blood, and one last gridiron accolade will be bestowed upon him Sunday April 26 when Reynolds will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Touchdown Club of Atlanta’s National Football Foundation during the foundation’s annual football banquet. The banquet’s featured guest will be ESPN College Gameday personality Lee Corso.
This for a player who spurned a preferred walk-on offer to play football at Mercer in order to jump full-time into the classroom at Georgia.
And that’s a huge part of why ELCA football coach Jonathan Gess says the congratulations should come pouring in.
“I think it’s a wise decision and a mature decision on Davis’ part to do what he did,” Gess said. “The fact that he was able to process and say, ‘Why should I go into debt to go to college and play football, when I can go to a school like UGA for free and start my education?'”
That’s not in any way a slight to Reynolds’ former football aspirations. Instead, Gess says its just the latest sign of his former player’s top notch character.
“Kids that are in that age, you know, around 17, 18, 19, 20 through 22 years old, they’re chasing the dream of continuing to play that game,” Gess said. “And with today’s day and age of scholarships, and they’re all looking at the kids getting offered and being on social media and stuff, what sometimes I don’t think they’re realizing is they are looking at only the top, maybe, 0.5 percent of athletes in the nation. And it’s just not something that’s in the cards for every athlete.
“For Davis, that opportunity didn’t open up, but what an incredible amount of maturity for the young man to be able see the opportunity that God has opened up and process those questions and make the decision he made.”
Make no mistake about it, as great of a deal as the full ride to Georgia and the Touchdown Club scholarship is, Reynolds admits that choosing to hang up the helmet, pads and cleats was one of the toughest decisions of his young life.
“The way things worked out, it was just financially better and made more since to go to UGA and be strictly academic, hit the grades and graduate,” Reynolds said. “But, yeah, oh man, I’m gonna miss football a lot. I’m sure when the fall comes I’m going to have to resist that urge to go put on some pads and hit somebody, but I believe God’s got me, and if it had been in His plan for me to keep going in football, he would’ve made it abundantly clear.”
Perhaps nothing is more clear in Reynolds’ life than the fact that his relationship with God undergirds his every move.
Even the scholarship — which is awarded to student-athletes based 40 percent on athletics, 40 percent on academics and 20 percent on community service — is a direct reflection of the benefits of his faith.
Reynolds, the son of Chris Reynolds who pastors Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Jonesboro, has utilized his connection with his church and his faith in Jesus Christ to enrich that community service side of who he is as a young man.
It’s because of what he knows about Christ that makes serving more about spiritual satisfaction than anything else.
“If you go out to do community service just to do it, you know, you may help somebody out for a day, or maybe even a year or something like that,” Reynolds said. “But when you’re preaching Christ when you do it, it affects more than just their here and now. It affects their eternity. And really, there’s nothing more important in the grand scheme of things than where you stand with God. Going to help someone while sharing that message — there’s really nothing better in my opinion.”
Reynolds said his service side has included everything from running the sound board at his church to hosting open gym basketball to give youth a safe place to hang out and connect with others who share Reynolds’ faith.
He’s also served as a volunteer at the Calvary Refuge homeless shelter in Forest Park and has frequented lower income apartment complexes simply just to hang out with kids and build relationships that could potentially lead them to Christ.
Reynolds said it is the same Christ he preaches to kids in the neighborhood and at church who empowered him to play the safety position at ELCA with increased ferocity and reckless abandon this past season, helping the Chargers bounce back from an 0-6 start to a state championship berth in the Georgia Dome.
“My faith motivates me,” he said. “You know, I believe in Christ, so that means I’m striving to be more like Christ every single day. Christ was perfect, and so whenever I didn’t feel like playing football, or going to practice or going to workout, or even if I didn’t feel like doing community involvement stuff, and I just wanted to stay home, I’d think about how if I want to be like Christ, He would’ve been there in those times and done what was needed to do to help out no matter how He felt.
“When you think of it that way, it makes you be unselfish, and you stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
That’s why Reynolds’ head was seldom down this past season. Whether during the season opening six-game skid, an occasional bad play or blown assignment or even the 49-7 drubbing at the hands of Mount Paran in the state title game, Gess said he could always count on his senior safety to show uncommon and contagious maturity on the field.
“You know, when you have a crazy football season like we had last year, somewhere on that team, there’s a catalyst,” Gess said. “Somewhere, there’s a strong leader and this year that leadership came from Davis. He’s one of those guys who rallies everyone together. He’s super mature for his age. He completely bought into the win the day philosophy here. He was like a coach on the field for us.”
And, he exemplified, Gess said, the true purpose for the football program he has built at ELCA over the past nine years — a program that sees winning games and championships as secondary to the goal of building quality men who can use football for life lessons long after they’ve played their last game.
“(Davis) embodies our program’s purpose, no question,” Gess said. “And that’s why I say as high school coaches, we’ve really got to keep preaching that we’re building men for what God has in store for their lives, not just building men to play the game. Ninety-nine percent of the kids who hear that last high school game whistle blow will never play the game again.”
And though that may be true for Reynolds, it’s not going to stop him for enjoying perhaps his final high school football-related moment.
Reynolds said he’s geeked about the opportunity to meet a big time college football media personality he’s spent his entire life watching on Saturday mornings.
“Oh, it’s gonna be great,” he said. “I can’t wait. I’ve grown up watching Lee Corso on college game day, so it’s gonna be awesome. When I found out that he was the one speaking, I couldn’t shut up about it at supper. It’ll be a great experience, for sure.”