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2020 East-West Shrine Bowl: Kevin Davidson ready for his shot

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  • By Andy Fenelon NFL.com
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The 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl will be broadcast exclusively on NFL Network as well as the NFL and NFL Network apps at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 18.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Kevin Davidson might not be the most talented quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, have the largest hands or possess the long resume to even get drafted. But he just might be the most intriguing prospect in it.

Consider:

» He regularly hangs out with Marshawn Lynch.

» In his junior year, he transferred to a predominantly black high school that he said had only two white kids in it; he was one of them.

» At that school, he played for the father of Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters.

» He accepted a scholarship to Princeton, where he sat for three years before getting his chance in 2019.

It's the last item that has scouts here at the East-West Shrine Bowl the most perplexed. Is a quarterback with only one year of Ivy League college football experience draftable? The "why" question is a popular one this week for Davidson. It's one his head coach at Princeton was asked more than once this past fall as NFL scouts made their way through the campus situated halfway between New York City and Philadelphia.

It's an easy answer for Bob Surace, who has led Princeton to three Ivy League championships in the last seven years.

"Literally, we have had three straight players of the year (Quinn Epperly, Chad Kanoff and John Lovett) playing that position who went on to the NFL," Surace said by telephone from his Princeton office. "He'll be our fourth to go."

"The guys ahead of him were very, very good players," added Mark Rosenbaum, Princeton's quarterbacks coach, who accompanied Davidson to St. Pete's this week. "But he developed. Throughout the years, he kept getting better. As crazy as that may sound, sometimes it happens."

In his one year as a starter, he finished as the 10th-most efficient passer in the FCS ranks, completing 67 percent of his passes, with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Surace credits the fact that Davidson "lives in the film room" for his preparedness to take over the starting job.

"There were many times I had to kick him out and tell him to go home," Surace said.

Still, only that one year of game tape exists on Davidson, which makes his pre-draft evaluation difficult -- and it makes this week's opportunity to showcase his skills even more important. So far, he's leaving a good impression.

His arm strength has been easily noticeable in the first two days of practice, as have his technique, throwing motion and NFL size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds). Prior to arriving in St. Pete's, he had been working out with Phil and Matt Simms at the former quarterbacks' training facility in New Jersey.

How Davidson got to Princeton, a school 3,000 miles away from his Northern California home, is a story in itself.

He grew up in the small town of Danville, California (pop. 42,000), 23 miles east of Oakland, and attended San Ramon Valley High School. He had the talent to play big-time prep football and, he said, yearned for an opportunity. So after his father took a job that required him to work in San Francisco and the peninsula before Davidson's junior season, he transferred to McClymonds High, a predominantly black school in West Oakland with a football factory of sorts coached by Marcus Peters' father, Michael Peters.

Davidson started 4-0 in his only season at McClymonds before all hell broke loose. Accusations were made that Davidson's transfer was done for athletic purposes only. The state's governing body for athletics, after an investigation that included surveillance of the family home, agreed and disallowed the transfer, making Davidson ineligible to play high school football again.

Stanford was no longer interested after the year-long suspension, but Surace stayed heavily involved in Davidson's recruitment after seeing the quarterback at one of his camps. It was Davidson's father who convinced him that an Ivy League degree would protect him if football didn't work out.

His time at McClymonds was not entirely lost. He said he gained many close friendships that he still holds today. Being in a cultural environment different from anything he had previously experienced actually helped him prepare for being on a culturally diverse football team at Princeton, and it is something that will continue to serve him well if he makes it in the NFL.

The experience also introduced him to Lynch and Josh Johnson, the longtime NFL quarterback. Lynch, Johnson and Marcus Peters are all cousins, with Lynch and Johnson having attended Oakland Tech, and Peters having gone to McClymonds.

"Every time I go back home, I check in with them, we go get dinner," Davidson said. "Josh was actually the MVP of this game (East-West Shrine) when he attended it (in 2008), and was giving me advice about it."

Davidson, who likens his game to that of Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Allen, said he hasn't received an invite to next month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis but was told he is on a contingency list. The combine traditionally invites around 100 seniors in December, then fills in the next 100 or so with declared juniors i mid-January, then completes the 300-plus invites with players on the contingency list.

If he gets an invite, it would be huge for a one-year starter. If not, what team general managers, coaches and scouts see and hear this week could play a big part in their overall evaluation of Davidson.

"In talking to people here, there's definitely some heavy interest, but their concerns are he's played just one year," Rosenbaum said. "But the consistent thing they've also said is down here is going to be really important for him, the opportunity to showcase himself in this type of setting."

Day 2 practice notes

BIG NAMES IN ATTENDANCE: Among those attending practices this week were three head coaches and 11 team general managers. While most of them sit in the Tropicana Field stands, Raiders GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden were roaming the sidelines, watching the action up close on Tuesday.

The only other coach in attendance was Jacksonville's Doug Marrone. Teams that sent their GMs besides the Raiders: Atlanta (Thomas Dimitroff), Baltimore (Eric DeCosta), Buffalo (Brandon Beane), Carolina (Marty Hurney), Detroit (Bob Quinn), Green Bay (Brian Gutekunst), Jacksonville (Dave Caldwell), Minnesota (Rick Spielman), the Jets (Joe Douglas), Pittsburgh (Kevin Colbert) and Tennessee (Jon Robinson).

D.J.'S DAY 2 WINNERS: NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah is here this week, prepping for Saturday's broadcast of the game. He'll be highlighting standout players in this notebook each day of practice. Here are his Day 2 winners:

» Arkansas DT McTelvin Agim: "He was the best player I saw today. He's so explosive. They couldn't block him in one-on-ones. He stands out. Every year, there's a guy like that at this game that jumps out; he's the guy this year. If you're looking for a battlefront promotion guy (late invite to the Senior Bowl), that might be the guy."

» Syracuse pass rusher Kendall Coleman: "He had a really good day. He's got a great get move. He can dip and bend around the edge to get to the top of his rush and flatten. He was great in one-on-ones."

» Central Florida RB Adrian Killins Jr.: "He's tiny (5-7, 164) but he reminds me a lot of De'Anthony Thomas, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Chiefs in 2014. He's going to be a specialty player with lots of juice and speed. He caught the ball really well."

» Michigan OL Jon Runyan Jr.: "He was playing guard today. You can just tell he's been coached very well. He's tough, smart. He's Steady Eddy. He didn't wow but he had a really solid day."

» Auburn OL Jack Driscoll: "He was the guy who moved the best on the East offensive line. He was just an easy mover."

» Indiana WR Nick Westbrook: "He had the best day of any receiver. Real crisp and clean with his routes and he caught the ball naturally. Speed might be an issue. I talked with him and he's targeting the low 4.5s. If he can run that range, he has a chance to be a really good player. Speed is the only question on him."

» Illinois State RB James Robinson: "He carries his weight (219 at 5-9) well, ran good routes, caught the ball real well, and showed some juice."

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