A heat wave boiled over Tampa, Fla. Practice didn’t start for another hour.
This summer, before the Blake High School football team hit the field, one of its assistant coaches was outside, running sprints and drills by his lonesome. When practice ended, he retired to the campus weight room, lifting long after the carpools drove away.
Coach Anthony Davis, who had played in parts of six NFL seasons, most recently with the New Orleans Saints in 2009, was out of the NFL.
The NFL still wasn’t out of him.
This month, the 32-year-old left tackle tried out and signed a one-year deal with the Chargers. He played Saturday night in his first NFL game in about three years, seeing second-half snaps in the Chargers' 28-20 win over the Cowboys.
Since they learned of his Aug. 8 signing, Davis’ high school players have sent him daily text messages of support and encouragement.
“It’s almost like a movie,” Davis said. “Those are my guys. Those are my kids. I’ve always been on them about hard work, hard work. … Now, look where it led me. They have a physical example of what hard work can do.”
Davis coached Blake’s offensive and defensive linemen. In the summer, he ran the weight room, too.
Junior center Josh Vizcaino says the bar was set high, as Davis had the team do “crazy push-up things” and “ridiculous exercises.” The workouts became teachable moments.
“So many people were about to fall out. People wanted to give up,” Vizcaino said. “He was always right there, saying, ‘This is what it is. This is what it takes. You need to do this. This is what gets you places in life. It doesn’t matter what you want to do. As long as you’re working hard, you can go where you want to go.”
Davis started at Virginia Tech.
In 2004, he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie and started every game in 2005 and 2006. They released him in 2008.
When the Chargers called, Davis hadn’t been on an NFL roster since the Saints waived him before the 2009 campaign.
For three years, his NFL career detoured to the United Football League.
He played for the Virginia Destroyers in 2011, winning the UFL championship under the helm of former Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Davis didn’t lose sight of the NFL.
Vizcaino said it’d “be a lie” to say players weren’t disappointed to learn their line coach was leaving but that their happiness outweighed that.
“It just shows that, as long as you have right mindset, you can do it,” Vizcaino said. “He always said he had the mindset of a shark because you can’t a tame a shark. You can tame dogs. You can tame a bear; bears dance in circuses.
“He always said, ‘I’m a shark. That’s the mindset you need to have. If you do, you can make it.’”
As farfetched as it seems for a high school coach to join the Chargers mid-training camp and make their 53-man roster, Davis has a chance. Their reserves on the offensive line aren’t decided.
Guard/center Rex Hadnot is a lock, and rookie tackle Michael Harris and rookie center Dave Molk appear to be, too.
But the team hoped Mario Henderson, out of the NFL last year due to weight issues, would seize the role of swing tackle off the bench. Despite dedication that resulted in about 50 lost pounds during the spring, Henderson has struggled in camp, demoted to the third team over the past week of practice.
Davis presents a veteran option at tackle.
He’ll always have a place in Tampa, says Darryl Gordon, head coach at Blake.
“He got picked up by the Chargers, but he’s still part of our coaching staff,” Gordon said. “That’s important to me because, number one, he loves the kids. Number two, he loves the game. And number three, he’ll do whatever it takes. He’ll do whatever you ask him to do. No matter what it is, Coach Davis will be there.”