The incredible journey of 2021 NFL Draft prospect Zach Davidson
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
They love their football in Webb City, just outside Joplin in Southwest Missouri, and a short hop from the borders of Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
They love Webb City’s eponymous high school football team, a 15-time state champion, that serves as a source of civic pride and turns games into de facto community gatherings.
And they’ve fallen in love with the feel-good tale of one of their own. Zach Davidson, the NFL prospect who wasn’t even on the radar a couple of years ago, now shapes up as one of the most enjoyable stories of the draft.
Zach Davidson went from being a punter at Webb City High School in Southwest Missouri to now being an NFL Prospect.
Assuming he gets picked over the weekend, football fans around the country will soon be playing catch-up, for Davidson’s journey has been remarkable.
"Everyone is just amazed and excited by what he has accomplished to get to this point, where his ultimate dream could come true," John Roderique, head coach for 12 of Webb City’s state titles and still in charge of the program, told me via telephone on Thursday.
"People see him around town and there is a lot of pride in how far he has come. I’ve told him, I’m going to be in tears when he gets drafted."
Davidson is coming out of Division II Central Missouri, but as what, exactly? He punts with a booming leg that can clear the bleachers. He is teaching himself to long snap and place hold. He has even worked out as an H-back. Yet it is at tight end where he appears to have the most NFL potential, and what will likely earn him the call at some point in the middle to later rounds.
"I feel like the sky is the literal limit for me," Davidson told KOAM/FOX 14 television. "I’m just waiting on my shot."
He is an enigma, and he has an enigmatic story about how it all started.
During his sophomore year in high school, Davidson was tall and scrawny and the beneficiary of some good fortune when the varsity squad was hit by a suspension. According to Roderique, a couple of "little knuckleheads had been caught smashing up mailboxes" and Davidson was picked out of an impromptu JV trial.
He punted exclusively his junior year and was a depth chart tight end for his senior season, meaning college offers weren’t exactly flowing and the ones that did focused on his ability to boot it miles.
Davidson went to Central Missouri off the power of his leg, but never stopped working and never wavered in his belief he could be an elite tight end. He broke out in 2019, with All-American accolades at both positions. He had an average of more than 22 yards-per-catch and a tight end program-record 15 touchdowns.
The pandemic robbed him of the opportunity for a final campaign but Davidson committed himself to relentless preparation, both at a camp in Florida and back at Webb City, where he checks in with Roderique and uses the school facilities.
His pro day – where he recorded a 37.5-inch vertical, a 4.62 40-yard dash and 6.95 three-cone drill, all while standing at 6-foot-7 – ensured he would be much-discussed among NFL evaluators. Such prospects sometimes go higher than expected and Davidson’s stock has reached a point where it would be a major surprise if he were to go undrafted.
"A lot of people didn’t realize he was only 17 when he graduated high school, so he had a lot of growth potential," Roderique added. "He has built his strength and his speed and he is just tireless at it."
Webb City hearts were gladdened last year when offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, where he played two games in 2020. But Davidson is the prospect that came from deep. Really deep. Yet here he is.
Having needed to show ultimate faith in himself to get to this point, Davidson sees no reason to change that approach now and feels he can still take major strides forward.
"I am definitely very confident that once I get there I’ll be able to just expand my game to an all-time high," he added. "And learn from some of the best to ever do it."
Davidson is one of those special draft stories, of a player making the absolute most of his potential and overturning the odds. If that magic moment arrives for him this weekend, it will be the biggest step yet in an extraordinary journey. It will spark delight in Webb City, and see a tear of two trickle from his former coach’s eye.
"No one gets to the NFL who doesn’t deserve it," Roderique said. "But Zach, and how far he’s come? He really, really deserves it."
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.