CEDAR RAPIDS — There’s the smile. With Keenan Davis, there always seems to be the smile.
“He is always happy,” said his mother, Caryn Davis. “I don’t know how to describe him. He’s just Keenan. He’s happy, willing to do anything. You never hear the negative from him, always the positive, regardless of what he’s doing.”
Keenan Davis is honored as The Gazette’s co-male athlete of the year. You already know most everything about the Cedar Rapids Washington graduate athletically. He was a three-year varsity regular in basketball, a key member of the 2009 Class 4A state track and field championship team. He was a prolific football wide receiver who hopes to see significant time on the field this season for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
But here are some things you might not know. His brothers Cedric, 23, and Ceth, 20, played football at Washington. His mom was a standout athlete at Washington. His father, Kenneth, grew up in Gary, Ind., and played sports with Iowa wide receivers coach Erik Campbell.
He had some issues academically early at Washington but improved his grades substantially his final two years. He promised his grandmother he won’t get tattoos.
He has been virtually inseparable from best friends Wyatt Suess and Chad Christensen since they were in middle school. Christensen is headed to the University of Nebraska to play baseball, Suess is a recruited walk-on quarterback at Iowa who will be Davis’ roommate.
“He’s a joker, a full-energy guy,” Christensen said. “He’s a guy who I don’t think he’s ever been nervous before a game even once in his life.”
You get that ever-present smile when you tell Davis what Christensen said.
“I get more excited than nervous,” he said. “I’ll miss Wash a lot. Right when I graduated, (it set in). There’s nothing like what me and my friends went through. Just from the sports side, it was the best thing ever. Too much fun.”
Here’s one more thing you might not know about Keenan Davis. He didn’t start playing football until seventh grade, and only then after a remarkable sales job on his mother. Mom simply wasn’t down with football.
“He was my baby,” Caryn Davis said. “So when he was younger, he asked me in seventh grade, ‘Mom, can I play football?’ I said no. I always thought he was too fragile. He was tiny. He said, ‘Please, Mom, you’ve got to let me play.’ Finally I said OK, and this is what it’s come out to be.”
What it came out to be was a football career that included 169 receptions for 2,602 yards and 26 touchdowns. Three were five Mississippi Valley Conference records, five first-team all-MVC selections at receiver and defensive back and a spot in the Under Armour All-American game last winter.
Considered a top-100 recruit nationally, Davis got scholarship offers from some of the elite programs in the country.
“But I’ve always wanted to be a Hawkeye,” he said. “I gave some other schools some thought, but there’s nothing like home.”
According to Washington football coach Tony Lombardi, there’s nothing like Keenan Davis. “He’s a special kid,” Lombardi said. “He’s the kind of kid that when he walks in, he lights up a room. He makes kids around him better … There are just some kids who are like black holes that way, then there are other kids who are like a beacon. That’s the way Keenan is. He’s a selfless, hard-working kid with a very deeply ingrained competitive streak that drives him.”
Lombardi said he knew when Davis was a sophomore that he was looking at a possible Division I football player. But Davis had to work to get there. That’s what he did, increasing his size and strength, lowering his 40-yard dash time from 4.8 as a sophomore to 4.4 as a senior.
“He could have stayed the same and been the best player at Wash,” Lombardi said. “He wanted to be the best kid around.”
He got there. Smiling all the way.
“He’s just a great kid, a great friend, a great football player,” Christensen said. “I know he’s going to do well at Iowa.”
(Points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis, first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Keenan Davis, C.R. Wash (6) 51
1. Matt Morrison, Solon (2) 51
3. Scott Schebler, C.R.Prairie (3) 39
4. Drew Clark, Marion (1) 32
5. Brett Van Sloten, Decorah 10
Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order) — Mike Andries (C.R. Xavier), Sean Brandhorst (Central City), Alex Burkle (North Linn), Gavin Caves (Alburnett), Austin Otto (Iowa City West), Eric Thien (Tipton)
Others nominated (in alphabetical order) — Zach Bohannon (Linn-Mar), Ross Doehrmann (Williamsburg), Sam Elgin (Center Point-Urbana), Wyatt Hanus (North Tama), Derek Huenecke (Lisbon), Cole Kramer (C.R. Jefferson), Jason McCormick (C.R. Jefferson), Andrew Port (Springville), Eyasu Russell (Mount Vernon), Wyatt Suess (C.R. Washington), Jason Shupp (C.R. Kennedy), Kyle Slaymaker (C.R. Kennedy), Derek St. John (Iowa City West), Cody Strang (Solon), Abe Vos (Mid-Prairie), Tyler Wedemeier (West Central)
1983 — Todd Twachtmann, Marion
1984 — Marv Cook, West Branch, and Al Lorenzen, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
1985 — Shawn Stolte, Clarence-Lowden, and Matt Zuber, Iowa Valley
1986 — Cal Eldred, Urbana
1987 — Todd Fredrick, Washington
1988 — Pat Williams, Decorah
1989 — Jason Olejniczak, Decorah
1990 — Bruce Wall, Maquoketa Valley
1991 — Mike Kleppe, Cedar Rapids Prairie
1992 — Ryan Driscoll, Linn-Mar
1993 — Nick Gallery, East Buchanan
1994 — Tim Dwight, Iowa City High
1995 — Nate Frese, Benton Community
1996 — Casey Estling, Center Point-Urbana
1997 — Casey O’Donnell, Cedar Rapids LaSalle
1998 — Michael Claeys, HLV
1999 — Chris Richardson, Iowa City West
2000 — Ryan Kedley, North Cedar
2001 — Aaron Reasland, Mount Vernon
2002 — Calvin Davis, Iowa City High
2003 — Eric Sanders, Oelwein
2004 — Jacob Craig, Mount Vernon
2005 — Jay Borschel, Linn-Mar
2006 — Ben Lamaak, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
2007 — Barney O’Donnell, Cedar Rapids Washington
2008 — B.J. Hermsen, West Delaware
2009 — Keenan Davis, Cedar Rapids Washington, and Matt Morrison, Solon