Month: May 2015

ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT: Davon House

On a clear southern New Mexico evening in August 2007, Davon House was worried. His first year of college was right around the corner, and his football prospects looked dim. He had been working as hard as he could on the practice field, but was still making his fair share of mistakes.

The fresh-faced cornerback had arrived on the campus of New Mexico State University earlier that summer, the day before he turned 18. Davon had dreamed of playing Division 1 football since late in high school, but National Signing Day came and went in February without a single scholarship offer, leaving him feeling rejected.

Soon afterwards, Davon started emailing schools all around the country, showing his highlight reel, his athletic measurables, and his academic prowess. Few were interested; Signing Day had come and gone. Why offer a little-known kid from Palmdale, California, who had only played high school ball for two years?

But then, Davon got a call from New Mexico State head coach Hal Mumme. The veteran coach had seen the young star’s film and liked what he had seen, offering Davon a chance to try out as an invited walk-on over the summer of 2007. Davon eagerly accepted, and his parents, Kevin and Shelyne, drove him the 11 hours from Palmdale to Las Cruces in July.

Still, challenges awaited Davon. He took his lumps early on against veteran Aggie players and other scholarship recruits, and became discouraged. Davon’s dad told him that if he couldn’t make the final roster cut, that he’d have to come back to California, enroll at the local junior college, and try again the following fall.

The days went by, and Davon kept waiting. While most incoming college freshmen were eagerly anticipating coming to NMSU and beginning their studies, Davon kept wondering if he would make the roster.

And the day before school started, he did. Davon — a young kid whose first love was once baseball, not football  — was an Aggie. Coach Mumme gave him a full-ride scholarship to play for NMSU beginning that fall.

Davon was soon given his opportunity, not just to play, but to start. On October 20th, 2007, the Aggies were playing conference opponent Idaho on homecoming night, and it was Davon’s second career start. The jitters mostly went away after the first quarter, and he had picked off Idaho quarterback Brian Nooy early in the game, but Davon was still eager to prove himself.

The Vandals were driving down the field and got into the Aggies’ red zone. Nooy dropped back to pass, and Davon read the coverage, leaping in front of the intended receiver and picking it off.

And he kept going. And going. And going.

Moments later, the 18-year-old who never thought a D1 team would take a chance on him, had just scored his first career touchdown — a school record 100-yard pick-six that eventually helped the Aggies win the game, 45-31.

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Davon ended his freshman campaign with 37 tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass breakups. But there was still more to come. As a sophomore in 2008, Davon made 40 tackles, picked off two passes and recovered two fumbles.

And then, more uncertainty happened. NMSU dismissed Hal Mumme following the 2008 season, and Davon briefly entertained the idea of transferring to a school in his home state of California. But soon enough, Davon decided to stay after the Aggies named DeWayne Walker as their new head man in the winter of 2009. Walker had a lengthy resume that included stints as a defensive assistant at UCLA and USC, as well as in the NFL — and he had made his mark as a defensive backs coach.

“He came in and really showed me more of the business side of football as well as how to play cornerback,” said Davon. “He told me I had talent, and it could go a long way if I worked hard and dedicated myself to it.”

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Under the tutelage of Walker and assistant coaches Mike Rutenberg and Todd Littlejohn, Davon earned all-conference honors in his final two seasons at NMSU, and was named to the preseason watch list for the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award, given to the country’s top defensive back. During his final two seasons, Davon had 125 tackles, five interceptions (including two pick-sixes), and a fumble recovery for a TD. By the time his Aggie career was over, he ranked first in school history in interception return yardage, and sixth in career interceptions (11).

After running an outstanding 4.32 in the 40 yard dash at NMSU’s 2011 Pro Day, scouts began to take even more notice than they already were. It all culminated in Davon getting selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

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Through it all, Davon never lost focus and continued to work hard. From 2012-2014, he shined on special teams and as a reserve cornerback for the Packers, making his mark whenever he had the chance. This past offseason, Davon reunited with his former coach, DeWayne Walker, who is now the defensive backs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. No doubt that Davon’s determination and desire to improve will pay off as the Jaguars attempt to turn things around in the coming years. I wish him all the best!

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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Chris Ashworth

Whenever I sit down to watch HBO’s The Wire, I have so many reasons why I like it. Is it the jaw-dropping realism, the incredible writing and acting, or the richly-developed characters? I’d venture to say that it’s all three, and more. The Wire was not a major commercial success on TV, and it nearly got canceled twice. But it was also a critical darling, and has become a cult classic. Some critics have even called it the greatest American TV show of all time.

Which is why it means all the more to me that my friend Chris Ashworth was a part of it.

I first met Chris when I was about 10 years old. I was training in Lynchburg at the Renaissance Academy of Martial Arts (RAM), and I saw Chris around a lot. He was always friendly, relentlessly positive, and just had a great energy about him. He loved making everyone laugh — I remember very distinctly that he did an awesome impression of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. Chris was best friends with my coach, Jamie Ridgeway, the owner of RAM, so even when Chris wasn’t training for martial arts, he was always around the dojo.

I received my black belt in May 2007, but I was sad to see that Chris wasn’t there at the ceremony. I hadn’t heard from him in awhile, and I was wondering what had happened to him. At the time, I had no idea that Chris had become a professional actor.

When I did find out, I was so excited for him. Part of it was because Chris is an awesome guy who deserved all the success in the world, but he also became an inspiration to me. Chris, who was raised in the tiny town of Bedford, Virginia (20 minutes from Lynchburg), had plenty of career options, and he actually got a couple of degrees in criminal justice. He thought about going into the ministry, law enforcement, or even becoming a minor league baseball player. But he always wanted to be an actor, and he moved to New York City to pursue his dream.

That got me thinking. At the time, I was seriously considering a career in the film industry, but I didn’t know where to start other than to research every quality college film program in America. When I found out that Chris had made it big, again, I was inspired. If he can do it, I can do it! I thought to myself.

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In NYC, Chris worked in commercials and got some modeling gigs on the side, but he was frequently discouraged and went through many ups and downs. One day, HBO casting director Pat Moran gave him a call, and asked if he would like to play the Ukrainian thug Sergei Malatov on Season Two of The Wire. Moran explained that they had been having a rough time finding an American to convincingly play a Ukrainian national. She asked Chris if he could do a Ukrainian accent.

“I’m sure I can,” he replied.

“Good. I’ve already told HBO that you’re from the Ukraine and that you’ve only been in America for two weeks,” Moran said.

Chris had no dialect training and had never been to Eastern Europe, but he quickly became a fan favorite as Sergei. He appeared in 10 out of 12 episodes in Season Two, and returned for one episode in Season Five. Here’s an awesome scene with him, as Sergei, interacting with dockworker Nick (played by Pablo Schreiber) and drug kingpin Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew):

Following the conclusion of The Wire (which he still says is his favorite acting job ever), Chris found work with guest appearances on Without a Trace and Justified(among others), as well as making appearances in numerous indie films. He currently has two feature-length scripts that are in development, including one project with his good friend, martial artist and former Navy SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer.

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I was able to catch up with Chris in the summer of 2013, when we both happened to be in Lynchburg. He vividly remembered me as the 10-year-old kid who loved Napoleon Dynamite. It was so awesome to see him as the same laid-back, funny guy that I had met all those years ago, and we plan to stay in touch.

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In addition to acting and training in martial arts, Chris loves the outdoors, fishing, hunting, and watching sports. He is frequently involved in charity work, including feeding the homeless and helping fight the sex-trafficking industry. He lives in Los Angeles, but travels back to Virginia frequently.