DJ Davis had an impact from the moment he first stepped on the field as a true freshman two seasons ago for Southern Illinois.
The very first time he touched the ball in Saluki Stadium, Davis returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
"I had the chills that game," Davis told Prairie State Pigskin. "One of my teammates, Aaron Stanton, was back there with me. He told me before the game that I was going to take one back. To actually do it then, that was crazy. Once I got in the end zone, I saw all of the fans. Like I said, it was crazy."
Yet, Davis wasn't surprised by his early success. He has been named Honorable Mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference as a return specialist twice and Sophomore All-American by HERO Sports.
"I expected to have success so soon from the work I put in," Davis said. "Coming in as a freshman I didn’t have a starting position, but I still got playing time. A lot of it was on special teams. I’m a guy who believes that hard work will pay off."
Learn more about Davis in this week’s Moving the Chains feature.
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Fla.
High School: American Heritage
What does D.J. stand for?
Dalphon, Jr. I have the same name as my dad so that’s where the J comes from, to distinguish us. Even my teachers would ask where the D.J. came from.
How does a player from Florida wind up at Southern Illinois?
“Coach (Nick) Hill and Coach (Nate) Griffin. Coach Hill was loyal from the start. He stuck with me once he got the head coaching job. He stuck with me throughout the recruiting process. A lot of coaches were in and out, but Coach Hill was loyal. He’s a man of his word. I respect him for that. I would do anything for Coach Hill because he gave me the opportunity to be here.
I think about that decision daily. What if I’d have gone here or there? I’m just thankful to be here. I thank God every day for allowing me to be here and for allowing me to choose the right place.
What aspects of your game have improved the most since you arrived at SIU?
Strength and speed, thanks for Meade Smith, our strength and conditioning coach. I was always strong for my size, but relating that to the field, I don’t think I had that my freshman year. I’m more explosive and faster. I’ve also learned more of the game. As a running back, I can call out the coverages, blitzes and so forth.
Editor's note: Davis's aunt, Lisa Foreman, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of three people killed in a Labor Day shooting in 2016. She was 50. Davis, playing in the game in which he ran back the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, played with “R.I.P. Lisa” written across his eye black.
What did your aunt mean to you?
She was very important. She came to the Florida Atlantic game (the week prior to her death) and she was planning on coming to another game that year with my mom and dad. She was a loving, caring woman. She really loved her family and would do anything for us. She was always in my life, whether it was helping with schoolwork or supporting me at games. I was very close with her. To lose her was heartbreaking.
You are very close to Lisa’s son, your cousin, Jarrett Dieudonne who played football at Wagner College. How would you describe your relationship with him?
He’s like another older brother. He played cornerback in college. He taught me a lot and he’s still teaching me. I was talking to him at the Murray State game. He was pumped. He was telling me that I can always improve.
What’s the best advice you ever received from someone?
Never be satisfied. My cousin was the first person to tell me that. I’ve used that on the field, off the field, in the classroom, in my relationship with God. That tells me to keep pushing, that I can always do better. I doesn’t matter how well I’m doing in any of those areas. I can always do better. Never be satisfied.
You mentioned your relationship with God. What does Roger Lipe, the SIU team chaplain, mean to the Salukis?
He means the world. Honestly, he’s an amazing dude. I know for a fact that I can call Roger whenever I need to or I can pull him to the side if I need to talk to him. I can tell him how I’m feeling, what’s going on in my life, about God, anything. Anytime. He’s there for anybody on the team--coaches, players, training staff, anyone. He loves God. He loves his family. He loves this university. He loves the SIU program. He’d do anything for us.
What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
Everybody Hates Chris. That was on every day when I got out of school. I remember coming into my house and turning it on as soon as I walked in.
Name your favorite football movie.
Remember the Titans or Friday Night Lights. Every football player has watched or should watch Remember the Titans. I was in love with the process when he (Coach Herman Boone) got the job and there were a lot of things going on at the high school, a lot of distractions. He brought them together to become a great team. All of the kids and players bought into what he was telling them. Friday Night Lights is patterned after a great program in Texas and they’re expected to win but they go through some adversity, like losing their the star running back. People who usually don’t get in the game have to step up to save the season. Both of those movies represent some kind of process to overcome adversity to get to where they wanted to be.