- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2013

It wasn’t much, that watercolor painting of a bear holding a balloon, but Vernon Davis believes his uncle’s gift to one of his cousins was one of the first instances where he felt a pull toward the visual arts.

Davis, the San Francisco 49ers tight end, picked up studio art as a major during his sophomore year at the University of Maryland. He now owns a gallery in San Jose, not too far from the 49ers’ practice facility in Santa Clara, where he displays work by emerging artists. He partnered with the San Francisco Art Commission to provide a college scholarship for a high school student pursuing art.

And, when allowed to relax, Davis will pull out the brushes, the acrylics and the canvas and find a means to express himself.

Thoughts of his childhood, and his maturity, returned Thursday as Davis prepares to return home to Washington for a Monday night game against the Washington Redskins. Approximately 30 people will be in attendance, he said, for only his second game back home in his seven-plus seasons in the NFL.

“I’ve grown tremendously,” Davis said. “I’ve grown from a boy to a young man. I’ve learned a lot through experiences and just cultivating different relationships along the way. I’ve definitely grown.”

Davis, who grew up off of Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington, was one of the nation’s top high school players when he graduated from Dunbar High School in 2003. After three years at Maryland, he entered the NFL draft and was selected in the first round, sixth overall, by the 49ers in 2006.

Though he’s been on the West Coast ever since, Davis hasn’t forgotten his roots. When he was home for a month this summer, he spoke to a group of students at Paul Public Charter School, hoping the lessons he learned growing up in the city could be passed on to a younger generation.

Those were things Davis “never, ever” had growing up, and things that he believes could motivate young people whose dreams, and hope, may have dwindled.

“It makes a big difference,” Davis said. “When someone who has accomplished some things in their lives, especially professional athletes — if you show up and spend an hour or two at an elementary school or a junior high school, you get an opportunity to talk to the young kids and you have a chance to enlighten them, to inspire them. It’s one thing if they hear about you and they see you on TV and see some of the things you’re doing, but it’s another thing to show up and talk to them so they can see your passion and see the expressions on your face and your emotions.”

Davis’ homecoming comes as the 49ers have been struggling, especially on offense. Two losses after a Nov. 3 bye week have overshadowed the team’s earlier success, including a five-game winning streak in October.

The passing game is ranked last with just 168 yards per game, and the offense has scored only 29 points combined in the last two games after averaging 34.8 points during the winning streak.

Davis has 553 receiving yards this season on 34 catches, including at least one in five of his last seven games. His 16.3 yards per reception ranks first in the league among tight ends, a figure enhanced by touchdown receptions of 64 and 61 yards earlier this season.

“Vernon’s had a very good season, and it’s still being written,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I think that’s a thing — the story of this season is still being written for individual players and for our team.”

Asked why the offense has had trouble moving the ball lately, Davis said he can’t specifically figure it out. He cited the losses of tight end Delanie Walker, who joined the Tennessee Titans in the offseason as a free agent, and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his right Achilles’ tendon during offseason workouts and only recently began practicing again.

Even Davis has missed time this season because of a strained hamstring, which forced him out of the 49ers’ 27-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3.

“But you know, if I look on the bright side, we have six games left in the regular season, and then it’s the playoffs, so we have to sustain what we have now — keep the momentum going,” Davis said. “We just have to keep pushing and expect ourselves to come up with a victory.”

Davis, who grew up a Redskins fan, never had a chance to watch his team play in person. His first time at FedEx Field was in 2011, when he caught four passes for 41 yards in the 49ers’ 19-11 victory.

“It’ll be a great thing, man, just coming back to Washington, D.C., seeing the family and playing amongst the nation’s capital, where I’m from,” Davis said. “That’s home.”



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