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St. Joseph's Prep helped senior rally after his dad's death

Offensive lineman Shane Davis says school gave him solace after the sudden death of his father.

Saint Joseph’s Prep football player Shane Davis. (Photo courtesy of school)
Saint Joseph’s Prep football player Shane Davis. (Photo courtesy of school)Read more

THE PERSONALITY of Shane Davis seems to have a gravitational pull all its own.

As the 6-4, 285-pound St. Joseph's Prep offensive lineman walks through the school's eating area, teachers smile, classmates shout greetings and others change course just to enter the senior's orbit.

It's a dreary, drizzly and chilly Tuesday at the school's Girard Avenue campus and the climate is vastly different from the heat Davis recalls as a freshman when he waited outside the school's front steps for a ride that never truly came.

Clad in a collared, checkered shirt with a multicolored tie and tan sport coat, Davis occasionally paws at black-framed glasses as he explains how that day changed his life.

In fact, his college essay begins like this: "On May 21, 2012, my world came crashing down, but little did I know, it would smell like Palm Aid [cleaner] and sanitized hallways."

On that day, Shawn Davis Sr. was killed, a victim of violence, on his way to pick up his son from the Prep. Unaware of what caused the delay, Shane says he waited on the steps even after the school had closed.

"I remember it so vividly," he says.

Eventually, a family friend came and drove him to Temple University Hospital, from which Davis recalls the pungent smell of disinfectant.

"Just the little things that came to mind," Davis says. "Like, I was sitting on the floor [of the hospital] shedding single tears. I wasn't balling the whole time."

Whereas most high school freshmen - even some adults - might have lost whatever affability they possessed, Davis remained resolute.

"I showed a strong, almost silent version of myself," he says, "where I felt like it was a moment where God was like, 'You've been prepared for this moment. You're going to be OK.' "

"I just had this idea that, 'I'm going to be fine.' I love my dad and I know how much he meant to me and how much I meant to him. I was thinking, 'I'm going to be OK. I can't break down. This is not a time for Shane Davis to lose his voice. If anything, this is a time for Shane Davis to raise his voice.' "

Now, Davis is student council president - the school's first African-American to hold such office since 1969 (Vince Berkley). The Glenside resident is also passionately involved in Prep's theater program, the Cape and Sword Drama Society.

And, since losing his father, Davis is determined to preserve his joviality.

As proof, a passing junior classmate, whom Davis once mentored during freshmen retreat, exclaims, "Hi, Shane!" to which Davis returns a boisterous volley before seamlessly returning to the interview. Even Prep basketball coach William "Speedy" Morris gravitates toward Davis, changing his path slightly to offer a subtle greeting.

"That was the moment I felt like I had to grow up a little bit," Davis says of his father's death. "I also noticed that I lost a little innocence, because I realized the world isn't as bright as most high school freshmen would want it to appear.

"That's where I get it from, because I know the possibilities. I know what could happen in the blink of an eye [snaps his fingers]. So, I'm going to spend my entire days smiling, counting my blessings and being grateful for the things God and the people in my . . . "

He pauses. His brown eyes well with tears, though they don't spill as he adjusts his glasses.

"Sorry" Davis says, steeling composure, "I get emotional a little bit."

Motivated by his father, it seems total immersion into life at the Prep has helped quell some - not all - of that emotion.

"I am indebted to St. Joe's Prep," said his mother, Linda McCoy-Davis. "I appreciate them beyond words, and I think they've given him such confidence, happiness, joy, responsibility and accountability, and that's really opened him up. He's always been a shy kid."

Now, in addition to his various presidential duties, Davis also carries a 3.1 GPA and is currently taking two science classes, Advanced Placement English, calculus and government.

"A very serious senior schedule," he smiles, "which at times I can regret."

Later, he added: "My dad always said, 'You'll never get lost if you know your next move.' I really look toward that and put it into in my life."

To that end, Davis contemplates life as a plastic surgeon, possibly in reconstructions or prosthetics.

"I've always wanted to make people feel comfortable, whether it was in mixed company, by themselves or with themselves," he says. "I want to make people feel comfortable internally and externally . . . "

He also added: "I've always had the idea that if I am OK, that's the only way I can make other people OK."

However, his own healing process is ongoing, nurtured, Davis says, by Prep football. Though he's chosen to keep the particulars private, his father's death came less than a month before Father's Day, which fell on June 17 that year.

Also, Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA title game against District 7 Pine-Richland, comes a day before his father's birthday on Dec. 14 (SJP won last season's title on Dec. 15).

"I always pray to him before games, I pray to him after," Davis says. "I always talk to him, always think about him. Little events that are father-son [in nature], those are some of the more difficult times. But then I look around, and I have so many other figures in my life: an older brother [Shawn Jr.], Coach [Gabe] Infante, all the coaches actually."

Shawn Jr., whom Shane says attends St. John's, was also a Hawk and played the same position and wore No. 56 before Shane. There is also a youngest brother, Sharod.

On Father's Day last year, Davis exchanged texts with Infante.

"I'm so happy you came into my life," he recalls writing. "And he texted back, 'Best text I've gotten all day. Love you, big guy.' "

As for football, Davis, who once weighed 368 pounds, is passionate about playing collegiately and has received an offer, his first, from St. Francis. Davis also says he devoted himself, in his father's memory, to football and losing weight after returning to practice 3 days after the funeral.

And, he also still wants to pursue the theater, "just about as much as I see myself pursuing football past high school."

He may even pull some of his teammates into Prep's "Night of Scenes," a collection of plays and musicals put on by students.

"There are a lot of people who said they could see themselves doing it," he said.

After all, few seem to resist his pull. It's also evident he doesn't resists theirs.

"This program saves lives," Davis says. "I wouldn't be here without the Prep football program. Without the people I have met and without coach Infante, I would not be here. The football program helped me in a way I couldn't even explain by giving me 60-some-odd brothers and by giving me father figures who exemplify the greatest ways of how to be a man. And I needed that at a time when I had nobody."

Obviously, Davis would love another championship, but to hear him tell it, something else is also important.

"For me, it's not just about the sports, it's about the people," he says. "So, just being able to spend one last time with my seniors - my favorite people in the world - just being able to spend time with them for another 48 minutes is going to mean the world to me. And even this week in practice, I just want to laugh, I just want to be happy in the situation I'm in. I could not ask for anything else."