Bess comes home with Dolphins to face Raiders
Growing up on the rough streets in the shadow of the Oakland Coliseum, Davone Bess always dreamed of one day playing pro ball at the nearby complex.
That dream endured through watching his uncle get murdered at a family barbecue as a 10-year old, through his time at a juvenile facility that cost him a scholarship to Oregon State, and when he went undrafted in 2008 despite a stellar college career at Hawaii.
Bess finally will get that opportunity Sunday when he visits the Coliseum with the Miami Dolphins (5-5) for their game against the Oakland Raiders (5-5).
''It's definitely going to be an honor, after all the adversity that I've been through, to be able to play in front of my home city,'' he said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. ''Just reaching out to others, letting people know that there's a thing called hope and I'm a living example of it. If you stick to your morals, stick to your goals, and just continue to work hard and not let all the little things distract you, or even the big things, you can do whatever you want to as long as you put your mind to it and you believe.''
It's been a long, winding road for Bess to make it in the NFL as a standout receiver for the Dolphins. He grew up without a father in Oakland and had to deal with tragedy early on when he witnessed his uncle get shot and killed.
With the help of high school coach John Beam - someone Bess described as a father figure - Bess became a star wide receiver at Oakland's Skyline High School and was all set to go to Oregon State on a scholarship.
But before Bess started at Oregon State, he was arrested after allowing friends to put stolen property in his car in a mistake he takes full responsibility for. He was sentenced to 15 months at a juvenile detention facility, where he wrote out a list of goals that included getting on the football field, which colleges he might go to and what kind of statistics he would put up.
''There was no doubt in my mind I wasn't going to become another statistic in society, get out and have a second chance and mess it up,'' he said. ''I was definitely, 100 percent take advantage of it. ... I listed everything. It was just something I was looking at every day. You'll be surprised how the mind works. You start looking at something every day your mind starts naturally to take over and you just start doing it.''
Luckily for Bess, Beam was watching out for him.
He told another former player, Hawaii graduate assistant Keith Bhonapha, about Bess. Bhonapha watched Bess play a game for the team from Byron Boys' Ranch and recommended that Hawaii coach June Jones give him a shot.
Jones did and Bess made that decision pay off, catching 293 passes in three seasons. Despite those gaudy numbers, Bess went undrafted in 2008 in part because he is only 5-foot-10 and lacks blazing speed. He hoped to get a shot with the Raiders, but they never expressed interest.
''Somewhat of a disappointment, but at the same time I'm a true believer that everything happens for a reason,'' he said. ''For me to playing for my home team that might not have been a good idea. They kind of passed up on me and I'm here now with the Dolphins.''
The Dolphins are quite happy with how it played out. Bess has 179 catches in two-plus seasons, showing that same innate ability to get open and make catches that made him so successful in college.
With star wideout Brandon Marshall nursing a hamstring injury, Bess could have even more responsibility than usual this week for the Dolphins.
''Davone clearly knows some of his limitations and he tries to turn those things into strengths for him with some of the other things he can do,'' coach Tony Sparano said. ''He doesn't have the top-end speed that maybe some of the real fast receivers have, but he runs well enough and he's very quick. I think a tremendous compliment to the Hawaii program and what they did is just that this kid came out of college and he was so far ahead of the curve from a receiving skills standpoint.''
He will get to show those skills off to the home folks on Sunday. Bess said he bought about 60 tickets and expects many others from the old neighborhood about a mile away from the Coliseum to be there as well.
As much personal meaning as this game will have for Bess, it's also crucial for both teams after rough losses a week ago. Miami was shut out at home 16-0 by Chicago last Thursday, while the Raiders lost 35-3 in Pittsburgh to snap a three-game winning streak.
With the schedule only getting more difficult down the stretch for the Raiders, they know they can ill afford a home loss to a .500 team if they want to win the AFC West and make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Now they need to figure out how to play like they did during their winning streak, when they outscored opponents 115-35, and not the way they did last week.
''We know we can win,'' fullback Marcel Reece said. ''It's not about, 'We've got to figure out how we can win.' It's not that type of issue. We know we can win. We know we can win against good teams. We know it's about us just going back to doing it. It was a big stage, and we didn't do what we wanted to do. Now we got to come up with another one.''