Part II of my story,"Najeh Davenport, Reloaded'....

10 min read
There is a certain irony in Najeh Davenport producing a football documentary( given that growing up, well, he wasn't really a fan of the sport. At least not as a spectator.

"This is going to sound weird because I love playing football, I really never cared for watching football, watching other people play football," he admitted to "So when I was coming out I really didn't know too much about the University of Miami and I was in Miami. That's how I was, I like to play football, I didn't really care to watch any type of sport. But I'd play it all day long."

Davenport, who grew up in Dade County, attended Miami Central and it was apparent that he could play this game at a high level.

"My senior year my high school coach (Roger Coffey) told me,'If you keep doing this, you can write your ticket anywhere you want to go.' I really didn't know what that meant until I started taking trips to different high-profile colleges and stuff," said Davenport, who despite just playing in five games his last year at Central rushed for 1,098 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named a Miami Herald All-Dade selection and chosen to play in the Florida-Georgia All-Star game.

Miami's main competition for his services was arch-rival Florida State, who was in the thick of their incredible run under Bobby Bowden. After the 1996 season, the Noles graduated the great Warrick Dunn and Rock Preston was kicked off the team. Davenport was one of their main targets. He recalls,"It was myself, Travis Minor and some dude named Davy Ford."

Randy Shannon, then the linebackers coach at UM was his main recruiter. But the Hurricanes trump card was head coach, Butch Davis, whose sales jobs are the stuff of recruiting lore.

Davenport stated,"Once you got done talking to coach Davis, you kinda believed in yourself. Like he made you feel, honestly to me, like the University of Miami couldn't win without me. When he left my house, I felt like the University of Miami could not win a game if they didn't have me. That's the type of person he was." And he would go to any length to woo a prospective recruit."Like even when I was interviewing (for the documentary) I got guys saying,'Yeah, coach Davis, he was the only white guy at an all-black basketball game. I fell down and hurt myself and he was on the court asking if I was alright.'

"Other guys saying coach Davis went above and beyond to show he wanted us, that he needed us. I remember coach Shannon called me and it was him and coach Davis and they were all on the speaker phone with two other coaches asking me about Santana Moss, what did I think about him because they wanted to get Santana here but they didn't have any more scholarships."

Moss, was eventually put on a track scholarship and became an integral part of the rebuilding process of the late 90's. It was these recruiting classes that began to turn the tide of the Miami program.

"Honestly, it was my class and we called them the '2G' and the 'Deuce 1', the '2G' class that came in 1996, that's your Edgerrin James, Bubba Franks, Nate Webster, Damione Lewis, Al Blades and you had your 'Deuce 1' class who came in '97 with myself, Ed Reed, Reggie Wayne, Santana, Kenny Kelly, Dan Morgan, those guys,"said Davenport, who explained that there was a bit of a culture clash within the program. "The older class guys with coach ( Dennis) Erickson, their mentality wasn't always about football, excuse my French, they had been ****ed over: the scholarships, the probation, coach Erickson leaving and coach Davis coming in. Everybody had to learn over.

"But coach Davis gave those guys a fair chance, like he gave a FAIR chance to play but then the younger guys, our mentality was coming in was like the '2G' class was no-nonsense. We were all about football, all day, everything. It wasn't about going out, it wasn't about partying, trying to see how many chicks you could bang in the room. It was just straight football and we had people come in and it's funny, we have guys who came in and want to take on this college mentality and it wasn't about football. So these guys are partying and they can't make their 110's and we would fight. You would get jumped if you missed your 110's and you had guys that quit."

Davenport recalls one instance where the new sheriffs in town made it clear that there was a new standard.

"There was this guy one time, they were re-doing the field so we had to go to the intramural field by the dorm rooms and coach (Andreu) Swasey did his best to mark it off but we're supposed to run 110-yards and it felt like 130. We're supposed to be hitting it in like 14, 15 seconds, stuff like that. But they were all easy on the watch because they didn't really mark it off but this one cat he was on like 17 seconds and if you bend over you gotta do another one, you put your hands on your head, you got another one," said Davenport, laughing at the memory of what would happen to this poor guy."So it was hard, we had one guy, a little bit older than everybody - he quit. He came in like '94, '95, and he was like,'**** this, **** that' and the young guys - and this is my freshman year, Edgerrin's and Nate's sophomore year - we were warning him about making this 110.

"The guys in his class didn't say nothing because they didn't care. After we worked out, when we got back to the locker room, all of his stuff was in the middle of 'the U': his keys, his clothes, drawers, all his books, all of that stuff. So when he came in, soon as he went to the middle of 'the U', everybody jumped on him!! We had like 15 cats just like beating his ***."

Talk about tough love. 1997 was a disastrous year for the Hurricanes, who were right in the thick of NCAA probation and fell to 5-6 in Davis' third season at the helm. But from there the 'Canes began a steady climb back atop college football. In 1998 Miami went 9-3 and capped of the regular season by defeating the highly ranked UCLA Bruins in a 49-45 thriller at the Orange Bowl. As the third tailback behind James and James Jackson, Davenport rushed for 387 yards and six touchdowns while averaging an impressive seven yards a carry.

The 6'2, 235-pound Davenport was an impressive blend of size, power and speed and 1999 looked to be breakout campaign for him as James declared for the NFL draft. In the season opener versus Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Davenport was dominant in the late stages of that game, carrying the rock 13 times for 81 yards as he helped run out the clock as the Hurricanes protected a late lead. But on his last carry he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.

In many ways it altered his career.

"Listen, there's not a day that I don't think about that," he admitted. "And it's funny because we as running backs we talk a lot and our group was competitive. You slip up at one point, you're liable to get your job taken."

Davenport recalls one time when Jackson played a bit of game on him,"I don't want to say he tricked me but I fell for it, that competitive nature came out of me. James didn't practice all spring, so we had (Clinton) Portis and Jarrett Payton, so it was myself, Portis and Payton through all of training camp and all of two-a-days. They said he had a hamstring problem so he was trying to rest it up for the season. So I was going good all training camp, I was breaking runs, running away from people, running through people, everything I needed to do to be a starter.

"Coach Sol (Don Soldinger) said because James had a little seniority, whoever had the best spring game was going to be the starter. You couldn't tell me I wasn't going to be the starter because I was doing everything I needed to do for the last three weeks. James said, 'Let's go warm up, together.' I said, 'Alright'. I'm in competitive mode, so we get out there we start running and my *** is over there trying to keep up with James and we ran like a mile before the spring game and I had the worst day of practice. And that's how he got me."

As he returned in 2000, Davenport was moved to fullback. Not only was Jackson still around, but a precocious Portis broke the Miami record for most rushing yards by a freshman in Davenport's place in 1999. Then there was a talented young back by the name of Willis McGahee who came on campus. Once a young thoroughbred, he was now forced to be a workhorse. And he admitted, "It was really hard, it was one of those things where you sacrifice for the team because our fullback had went down with a concussion, Will McPartland, he was on his eighth concussion or something like that."

By 2001, there was this guy by the name of Frank Gore that was brought into the mix. Regardless, Davenport was still a valuable starter on what is considered one of the greatest teams in college football history. After that he embarked on a seven year career in the NFL that saw him play for the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Indianapolis Colts before retiring after the 2008 season. Interestingly enough, when you ask him what his fondest memory of UM was (that he could tell us), it wasn't the championship season or any individual achievement.

"The day before we played UCLA( in 1998), we had just came back from Syracuse, everybody was mad. We just got our *** whooped 66-13 and that practice was just quiet, those practices leading up to the UCLA game and I remember the last day, the Thursday, it started raining and we had to go back in and then come back out, come back in and go back out we were leaving practice because we couldn't get **** done," he recalls."Coach Davis, took off running, so everyone's jogging behind him and have you ever been on a 'Slip N'Slide'? He did the 'Slip N'Slide' into the puddle. And all of a sudden, everybody started doing the 'Slip N'Slide with the big ol' puddles.

"So we got up and everybody was like cheering, laughing but prior to that, practices had been the quietest they had ever been because we had just got our ***-whooped. But after he did that, it kinda like broke the ice a little bit."

( Steve Kim is an avid Hurricanes fan, who's day job is covering boxing for He can be reached at He tweets an inordinate amount at @steveucnlive and has an Instagram account at @steveucnlive)

Comments (13)

"The older class guys with coach ( Dennis) Erickson, their mentality wasn't always about football, excuse my French, they had been ****ed over: the scholarships, the probation, coach Erickson leaving and coach Davis coming in. Everybody had to learn over.

Interesting point that seems to relate to what we've gone through over the past 4-5 years with the sanctions and staff changes (HC, OCs, DCs, etc.). That stuff takes a toll on the players and as fans it's hard to see it or quantify it.
Maybe my favorite CIS story since we started this thing. Awesome stuff.
if he didn't tear his ACL against Ohio State he would have been just as good if not better than any running back that ever play at UM. He still had a great career at Miami. His worst moment and was brought up in the documentary was when he fumbled against FSU late in the 4th quarter in the 2000 game which led to FSU go ahead td which we overcame with the Dorsey to Shockey td pass.
Davenport was a bad man before that injury.Davenport and Gore were beastmode before Marshawn Lynch.
That version of Najeh we saw in that KOC before the injury, IMO is the difference between winning 9 games(IRRC correctly) and winning 11 or so that season. I think they get that last first down vs Penn St and don't lose to ECU the next week.

He was an absolute hoss before that injury
Awesome. I can only pray the current 'Canes get back to this level
Good isht K9, thanks.