Powerful pair preach positives

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2005

Their massive upper arms resembled the thigh muscles on mostmen. Their smiles lit up Jack Case Gymnasium on the West Lincolncampus. Their message of mutual respect and the pursuit of dreamsimpacted the high school-age audience assembled in the bleachersWednesday afternoon.

Meet Shawn Harper and Keith Davis, two large black men involvedin sports ministry. They were part of this week’s Lincoln CountyCelebration, bringing their message of positive thinking and strongmorals to area schools. They performed feats of strength Wednesdaynight on Brookhaven High School’s King Field, wowing the largeaudience with their physical power and Christian witness.

Davis, 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds, can bench press over 500 poundsand leg press 1,800 pounds. His proudest achievement is graduatingfrom Southern Cal with highest honors, plus degrees in business andfinance.

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“My mom was born and raised in the little town of McComb,” saidDavis who grew up in southwest Los Angeles. “I love Mississippi.They’ve got good grits here.”

That statement drew a cheer from the partisan crowd.

Davis sported two Rose Bowl championship rings he won whileplaying for the Trojans. He also owned the highest grade pointaverage on the squad.

He held up a large steel bar for the audience. “Some bars holdhigh school students back. One of the bars is suicide, the No. 2killer of teenagers.”

Davis worked his way out of a difficult childhood. His fatherwas a drug addict and committed suicide when he was four years old.Keith’s mother moved in with her boyfriend and suffered physicalabuse.

“He hit me so hard I couldn’t hear for two weeks,” Davisrecalled. “I went to 12 schools before I graduated from highschool.”

Davis preached the importance of dreaming big dreams. “Don’t bean average dreamer; no little dreams. Dream big. You all havepotential. Reach for it.”

Davis said a little dream takes no effort, no focus. “If lifehas knocked you down, that’s OK. If you can look up, you’ll be allright. God can get you through.”

Looking at life and the mistakes that plague many teenagers,Davis said, “It’s never too late to make a U-turn in yourlife.”

He was holding up the steel bar that Harper had neatly bent in au-shape.

Davis praised his wife and talked about the importance of aChristian family life. They are blessed with two sons.

“My wife has some advice for you girls,” said Davis. “Build yourlife in the front seat of respect, not the backseat ofdisgrace.”

More advice for the females, “If your boyfriend doesn’t treatyou like a queen, get rid of him. It won’t get any better when youmarry him. Don’t settle for less.”

Davis played for the New York Giants before starting a full-timeministry. He is based in Dallas, Texas.

Harper (6-4, 300), graduated from Indiana University. He playedNFL ball with the Rams and Colts. His young life also wasdifficult.

“Don’t allow someone to place chains on you,” said Harper,hoisting a large chain above his head. “A true friend won’tdiscourage your dreams.”

Harper started slowly, diagnosed with five learningdisabilities. He stuttered since first grade and was kicked out oftwo schools as he grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated last inhis high school class and scored a 9 on his ACT.

Still, Harper dared to dream of playing in the NFL. A juniorcollege offered him a football scholarship. He would have to payhis own way the first year.

So-called friends snickered and laughed aloud at his dreams ofplaying pro ball. Instead of becoming discouraged, Harper pressedforward, paid the price and was drafted third in the fourth roundof the NFL draft.

“I focused on my dream and got two college degrees,” saidHarper. “When I made it in the NFL, one of my high school teacherspulled me aside and insisted I get my college degree. An NFL careerdoesn’t last very long.”

Now a dynamic motivational speaker, Harper encouraged theteenagers to share in the Lincoln County Celebration.

“All of you are champions,” said Harper. “Come to the stadiumtonight. God bless you.”

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com