Outside the Game: Vernon Davis is finally following his artistic heart

Growing up as he did in a tough Washington, D.C., neighborhood, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis had artistic interests and talents that were sidetracked by the pressures and prejudices of the inner city. Davis avoided art classes in high school, because he thought that his classmates would judge him.

"I figured that if I took up art classes, people would look at me differently," Davis recently told Yahoo! Sports. "I wanted to be cool, and I didn't know how to adapt at the time. It's sad, but that's just the way it was."

He got his primary support in life from his grandmother, who raised Davis and his siblings. It wasn't always easy, and Davis once played an entire high school football season in tennis shoes because he didn't want to bother his grandmother about cleats. It was when he went to the University of Maryland that things started to come together for him in a football sense.

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"My sophomore year in college, I started to show sparks," Davis said. "Something was telling me that, hey, I'm about to go pro."

But it was also at Maryland that Davis finally found a way to further his previously hidden interest in art. He changed his major from Criminal Justice to Art Studio, and he was on his way.

"I've always enjoyed the idea of being an artist," he said.

Davis was selected by the 49ers with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, based in part on a ridiculous performance at the scouting combine.  At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, put up 33 reps in the 225-pound bench press, and hit a 42-inch vertical jump. Davis was one of the first of the new wave of athletic tight ends that has taken over the NFL in recent years.

With his future secured and his NFL path started, Davis also began to paint in earnest, and he describes the creative process in athletic terms.

"I just get into a zone, kind of like before a game," Davis said about what goes through his mind as he's painting. "I have this breathing technique I have that I do before a game to get me in the zone and focused. Usually, I don't know where I'm going with the painting until I'm done."

Davis doesn't want the kids following in his footsteps to go through the same misperceptions he had about art, which is why he formed the Vernon Davis Visual Arts Scholarship.

"I started the foundation because of my experiences as a kid," he said. "It's very important that I reach out to these kids and let them know that it's OK. You can miss out on a great opportunity if you don't follow your heart."

Davis has learned key life lessons from both of his processes.

"You can go as far as you want -- above and beyond," he said. "That's the way I see life. You just have to attack it each and every day."

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