A football trailblazer: Davis is first female to play for Red River
By any standard, Jah'veya Davis is on the smallish side for a high school football player.
The sophomore is 5-foot-9 and weighs 125 pounds, matching Brady McQuillan for the distinction of being the lightest player on the Grand Forks Red River High School football roster.
Even more unique, however, is Davis' gender.
When the Roughriders beat Grand Forks Central 41-0 on Sept. 27, Davis came off the bench in the fourth quarter to get playing time at offensive guard. She is believed to be the first female to play in a varsity game in the history of the Red River program.
“I was really nervous when I went in,’’ Davis said. “I was freaking out on the inside. But I tried to keep my composure. It was crazy, hearing people in the parents’ section yelling my name.
“But once I got on the line, I was just thinking about blocking. I think I did pretty well. I got in a pretty good block and pushed somebody back.’’
Davis plays football for no other reason than she likes the sport. Other girls sports are offered in Grand Forks in the fall. But they aren’t for her.
“I used to play volleyball. I’m not good at it,’’ said Davis, who began playing organized football as a seventh-grader, a year after her family moved to Grand Forks. “I don’t know how to swim. I’m not a runner. And golf isn’t my thing.
“My older brother played football. I used to be a cheerleader. But I always thought it would be cool to play. It looked fun. And I wanted to see what it was like to wear a uniform.’’
On the practice field, with uniform and pads on, Davis looks like every other player, albeit smaller than the rest -- particularly when she breaks off and practices with other linemen.
She is a teammate to her fellow Roughriders, not a girl playing football.
“Jah'veya is just another person to go against,’’ said senior lineman Payton Lotysz, a UND football recruit. “We don’t treat her any differently. It’s no big deal having a girl out there.’’
Davis senses a difference in how she is treated on the field from a year ago.
“Last year, at first it was like, ‘Oh, no, it’s a girl,’ like they needed to back off,’’ Davis said. “I didn’t want that. Now I think it’s harder hitting. And I like it when I’m just another lineman out there. I like to hit. They’ll hit me; I’ve been hit pretty hard sometimes.’’
Davis isn’t the first female who has considered playing football at Red River. Riders coach Vyrn Muir said when practices started, those past girls were no-shows.
“We were more than open with the idea of Jah'veya playing,’’ Muir said. “She’s been accepted by her peers. She’s played a full season with them.
“She showed up at the weight room in the offseason a lot more than some of the guys did. She was one of our kids who was in at 8 in the morning with the other players.’’
There is a little more work involved for the coaches.
For practices and home games, Davis has the girls hockey locker room to herself at Cushman Field. When the team is on the road, Muir said he has to contact school administrators to arrange for a locker room for her.
That’s one of the parts of the sport that she misses.
“I feel like I’m missing out on stuff in my locker room by myself,’’ she said. “I’m missing out on all the talking and joking around that goes on.’’
Muir said that, because of her size and inexperience, Davis is a junior varsity-level player right now. At practices, she plays on scout teams on a regular basis.
While Davis is a rare female playing football, she isn’t unique.
At Thompson, for instance, sophomore Ali Moses is a reserve in her second year of varsity football. At Thief River Falls, a few girls have played over the past several years, including special teams regular Madalyn Determan last season. And there have been others in the area.
As much as Davis enjoys playing football, this could be her last season.
Her father, U.S. Air Force staff sergeant Charles Sapp, is being transferred to Omaha, Neb., in January. Davis isn’t sure if she wants to start over as a junior at Omaha in a new program with new coaches.
“With us moving, I feel like I’ve left my mark in football,’’ Davis said.