November 30, 2008

Dolphins' Davone Bess thankful for how far he has come

It's in the quiet moments that wide receiver Davone Bess can savor how well things are going. In those same instants, it's easy for him to wonder how bad things could have been.

In between meetings or after practice, Bess often will stroll the halls of the Dolphins' training facility, awed by the historic photos and famed jerseys on display that remind him how far he has come.

Sometimes, he gets a little careless and lets his mind take him back to life in jail.

It was just six years ago that Bess stared at bare walls for 15 months, serving time in juvenile detention centers and adult jails.

The kid from the Oakland inner-city high school had once looked like a refreshing success story, having earned a full ride to Oregon State.

That all changed the night he was arrested with stolen property in his car. He lost his athletic scholarship and almost everything else. But not his hope.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it," Bess said. "But that made me the person I am today."

And now, after a season-ending knee injury to receiver Greg Camarillo, Bess will get another new opportunity. Today in St. Louis, the rookie will make his first start in the NFL.

His detour began in the summer of 2003, shortly after he graduated from Skyline High School. Bess said he stopped to pick up some friends who asked for a ride. He said he had no idea that his friends brought with them stolen items that police found during a traffic stop.

The summer he should have been training at Oregon State, he was in a juvenile detention center. The day the Beavers played their third game of the season, Bess turned 18 and was moved to county jail temporarily, even though he was convicted as a minor.

"I was doing that time for somebody else," he said.

He spent his last 10 months at a youth rehabilitation center in Byron, Calif. His mother, Chinell Carpenter, visited every week, driving the 90 minutes each way in tears.

"That was the worst thing I've ever been through in my life," she said. "That tore me apart."

Bess lived in a large, open dormitory with clinical white sheets. The only walls were the ones that kept the residents inside.

The oldest of the boys there, he would awake early, make his bed and spend a few minutes sitting quietly, wondering how his life had taken such a turn. Then he would head out with armed guards to work in the community.

He thought of his broken-hearted mother, who gave birth to him at 15 and had both her sons by 18, and persuaded the center to let him take classes at a local community college. He still wanted to reach college.

"I would always encourage myself: 'If you can get through this, you can get through anything,' " he said.

Then, the sport that had once promised him a future, when he was an all-city wide receiver and quarterback, was his savior again. A man who knew his high school coach brought him out to the center's 7-on-7 football team, which played squads from other facilities.

Soon, film of him in those games, along with tapes of his high school career, made their way to then-Hawaii coach June Jones, who offered him a scholarship. "I don't care about all that's happened," Bess remembers Jones telling him, "I believe the people who believe in you."

At Hawaii, Bess had the kind of career that many Division I recruiters had once expected of him. In three seasons, he caught 293 passes for 3,610 yards. Bess, the favorite target of Colt Brennan, became the only player in school history with three 1,000-yard seasons.

Jones' faith was rewarded.

"I wanted to prove to him, the whole coaching staff, even the state of Hawaii that I was worthy of a second chance," Bess said.

As a junior, Bess (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) was projected as a third-round draft pick. Since Brennan - a Heisman Trophy finalist - had declared for the NFL, Bess took the leap, too.

But a poor 40-yard dash time scared off teams on draft weekend. When he went undrafted, the Dolphins called immediately.

He would have to prove himself again. But that was the easy part. When others complained about the stifling heat and endless practices, he drew inspiration from his quiet walks through hallowed halls.

"I never take this opportunity for granted," Bess said. "I find myself walking through these hallways looking at the pictures, like, 'I'm really here.' That keeps me motivated."

He made an immediate impact on special teams, supplanting Ted Ginn Jr. as the punt returner because of his ability to change directions quickly and make people miss. Whatever Miami's expectations for him, Bess surpassed them.

"Every challenge that you put in front on him, he kind of figured a way through it," coach Tony Sparano said. "You started to look at him and think he was a veteran player."

That helped him work into Miami's rotation as a receiver, surpassing veterans such as Ernest Wilford, a free agent signee in his fifth season, and Brandon London, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants last year.

With Camarillo hurt, Bess - who has 24 catches for 275 yards with one TD - likely will play opposite the speedster Ginn. Coaches hope Bess can fill Camarillo's role as a sure-handed receiver in traffic.

"He can catch a BB in the dark," offensive coordinator Dan Henning said.

Despite his success in recent months and the praise he has received, Bess has not forgotten what it took for him to persevere.

"At a time when people are vulnerable and want to give up, he didn't," his mother said. "For him to still come out on top, it's a blessing."

Source: Palm Beach Post

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