San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has answered the call of leadership.
Nobody knows that better than Dashon Goldson.
Davis recently gave the 49ers safety a new cellphone with carrier service paid for a year. The reason?
"I gave it to him just to show my appreciation for some of the things he does on this team and for me as a teammate," Davis told FOXSports.com at 49ers training camp. "When I come across guys like that, I like to show them something in return."
Goldson said Davis’ gesture came from "out of the blue."
"That just speaks volumes of what type of guy he is," said Goldson, a teammate of Davis’ since 2007. "He’s very appreciative.
“Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve seen him evolving. He’s at a better place in his life now. It’s showing up in his game and as a leader on this team.”
A team that has a bona fide chance to reach the Super Bowl if Davis and the skill-position players San Francisco added in the offseason can help carry the offensive load and complement a championship-caliber defense.
Davis’ maturity as a person and player was evident last year during San Francisco’s second-round playoff victory over New Orleans. Davis, who scored on a 49-yard touchdown catch for San Francisco’s first points, encouraged his teammates at halftime not to let the club’s first playoff opportunity in nine seasons slip away. He then made one of the most memorable plays in franchise history — a 14-yard scoring grab with nine seconds remaining that gave San Francisco a 36-32 victory.
Davis was so overcome by emotion that he wept uncontrollably while being congratulated by his teammates. His efforts showed just how far Davis had come since being kicked off the same Candlestick Park field in October 2008 by then-head coach Mike Singletary.
The ejection came after Davis was baited into a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty by the Seattle Seahawks. But that wasn’t the sole reason Davis was told to leave the sideline. Singletary had grown tired of Davis’ lack of discipline and the me-first attitude of a player whose sense of NFL entitlement began as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft.
"I will not tolerate players that think it’s about them when it’s about the team," Singletary said at the time.
Singletary is long gone, but the message was received.
“It seemed like it was a little tough for him just getting into the groove as to what he wanted to be as a player and individual," Goldson said. "I think Coach Singletary did a good deed getting him to see a bigger picture than what he was accustomed to. Now that different coaches have come into his life and different players, he’s opening up and expanding his whole game and life.
“He’s talking to guys. He’s leading by example. That’s the most important thing. He does all the right things. He’s a great player and a lot of guys look up to him.”
Davis is setting a positive example off the field, as well. The football camp annually run by Davis and his brother, Vontae (a Miami Dolphins cornerback), has grown to draw hundreds of children in the Washington, DC, area where they were raised. The Glide Foundation, a spiritual-based charity focused on fighting poverty in the Bay Area, recently honored Davis at its fundraising gala.
"Vernon is a young man who came from a high-risk home and community setting. He’s a true success story," said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, who accepted the Glide award on Davis’ behalf. "He’s matured a tremendous amount.
"The thing people don’t realize is just how caring he is and how much he wants to be part of a team. As you’re developing in sports, you go through that phase where it’s more about you and, ‘What do I get?’ As you start to achieve a little success, all of a sudden it becomes more about the team."
Now in his seventh NFL season and playing for a winning team under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, Davis isn’t taking for granted the feel-good vibe emanating from San Francisco’s locker room.
"When you think about it, it’s not going to be forever," said Davis, 28. "I’m the type of guy who likes to cherish the moment. Being here with this team, there’s nothing like it. I love them the same way I love my family — my mother, my father. I want to see each and every guy do well. I want to help them. To me, that’s how it’s supposed to be. You should love the guy who’s sitting next to you.
“Sometimes, guys don’t realize that because they never come up to you and you never get a chance to cultivate the relationship other than being a teammate. I’m sure there are a lot of guys who know I’m a good teammate. But I don’t think they know how I really, really feel about them."
That Davis has poured so much of himself into the 49ers is helping him deal with the heavy pressure he places on himself to perform. Davis has the talent to post the same type of gaudy receiving numbers as New England’s Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham — if the tight end played a larger role in San Francisco’s offense.
Davis, though, tallied a modest 67 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns during the 2011 regular season. It wasn’t until the playoffs, when Davis had 10 catches for 292 yards and four TDs, that he reemerged as a major threat in San Francisco’s passing game.
"I’m not happy with myself. I’m not happy with my production," Davis said. "I say that because it can be more — a lot more. I know what I’m capable of. But I just sit around and wait. I’m very patient.
"I always told myself the whole (2011) season, ‘Everything isn’t going the way I want it to go. I’ve got a feeling God is going to bless me and make it go the way I want it during the playoffs.’ It happened. I’ll take advantage of my opportunities. I’ll do everything I can to help my teammates win games."