Playing in the National Football League had been a lifelong dream for Tyler Davis ’19 (CAHNR) since growing up on Long Island in Bellmore, N.Y.
The reality that he had fulfilled that journey as a rookie tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 became clear in one particular moment for Davis.
It was the fifth week of the season, and Davis and the Jags broke the huddle for another play against the Houston Texans.
“I came up to the ball and put my head down like I always do,” says Davis. “Then I look up to see who is across from me and see what I am dealing with, and it’s J.J. Watt. This guy is one of the faces of the league and I’ve been watching him on TV for years.”
Playing against the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (now of the Arizona Cardinals) is just one of the many special moments Davis has enjoyed in the game.
He originally came to UConn as a 17-year-old quarterback in the spring of 2014 after graduating early from Mepham High School. Davis transitioned to the tight end spot for the 2016 season and had six touchdown receptions in 2018.
After earning his undergraduate degree in agriculture resource economics, he also took graduate classes at UConn in financial risk management in the School of Business.
“The program was definitely something I had an interest for and was able to learn some valuable lessons,” says Davis.
One of the strongest influences at UConn for Davis was strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, who now holds a similar position at Notre Dame.
“The Matt Balis way was to attack everything you do with a full effort,” says Davis. “That mindset is still with me today. He taught me to give great effort in football, but also to do the same things in relationships and every part of your life no matter what it is.”
Davis also remains close with freshman roommate and former UConn teammate Luke Carrezola ’17 (CLAS), who is now a defensive graduate assistant coach with the Huskies.
“I am really happy for Luke, he loves UConn through and through,” says Davis. “The players at UConn should be thankful he is there. He knows what it takes every day and is a great example for them. If you want the blueprint, Luke will take you along and show you all the right ways to be successful.”
Davis wound up playing the 2019 season as a graduate student at Georgia Tech and then it was time to begin pursue his NFL aspirations. It was also the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He went out to train in California in early 2000, but failed to get in invitation to the NFL Combine, the annual audition for college players to perform in front of pro coaches and general managers.
“That bummed me out, because it was something I had bene looking forward to, and I thought I was an athletic type of guy who would do well there,” says Davis.
He was, however, able to show off his skills at Georgia Tech’s pro testing day, one of the last ones held before the whole country shut down to in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was able to have a lot of visits with teams before the draft, all of it virtual,” says Davis. “I was able to explain my football knowledge and the adversities I had been through. I talked to multiple head coaches, multiple assistant coaches, and I had a feeling I was headed in the right direction.”
The 2020 NFL Draft was an all-virtual event and Davis was thinking he would be picked in the later rounds on the third day.
“I was home with just my family watching it on TV,” says Davis. “It was in the prime of COVID, and New York was being hit really hard. My parents really didn’t want anyone else around.”
Davis’ best friend from childhood, Chenzo Worgul, knew he had to be nearby for the special day and sat outside on the family lawn.
“We pulled up the blinds and gave him updates,” says Davis.
Davis was selected in the sixth round by Jacksonville and soon after that, the front yard was filled with neighbors and friends to celebrate in COVID-safe style.
Everything was different because of COVID, and the Jaguars even shipped weight and training equipment to Davis’ house to stay in shape.
When training camp finally began in the late summer, it was all done with safety in mind: team meetings by Zoom, constant testing, and sitting far apart at meals.
“I love the brotherhood of a training camp,” says Davis. “It’s part of what makes football great. Spending 12 hours a day with each other, working hard, having meals, catching a movie. It was all different. When you are screaming at someone 12 feet away at dinner, you don’t get the same personal experience.”
Davis and his teammates went through COVID testing every day from July 21 until January, even on days when there weren’t any other team activities.
He ended his rookie year having seen action in eight games as both tight end and special teams. He is looking forward to his second year in the league based on the experience he picked up in 2020.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to and I could come up with a million excuses, but that is how the NFL is,” says Davis. “You are evaluated every day in the NFL and I like that. Competition brings out the best in everyone.”