Southridge alum and former Super Bowl champion Tanard Davis has turned his focus to a new sport.
The 36-year old is in his second year as a professional jai alai player at the Magic City Casino.
“I really do enjoy it,” Davis said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s about the money and you want to win, but I always try to come to the casino with a good positive attitude because you may go home with no money. We’re still getting paid because we’re on salary. I enjoy it because we could be somewhere completely different and regretting what kind of job we’ve got. It’s pretty laid-back, we have a break period, and we’re throwing a ball to get paid. I think there’s no better job than that other than being a comedian.”
Davis is part of a new group of players, including a number of former University of Miami athletes, who were brought in by the Magic City Casino to be a part of their jai alai group, which replaced dog racing last year. Players have been given salaries, full health benefits, and the opportunity to compete for over $400,000 in bonus money during their five-month season.
It was a learning period for the players, who had not played the sport before and did not know much about the game. It began with learning how to handle the cesta while catching the ball and then understanding the strategies of how the game should be played.
“It was a learning curve for everybody,” Davis said. “The product out there now is light years ahead of where it was last year. The process was learning how to track the ball, learn how to throw the ball and how to score, and learning to see where your opponent is not going. There’s levels to it. There’s strategies to it and each player you play you have to have a different strategy for them because each player has their own skill set.”
Games at the casino are played using a round robin format with eight players competing in a singles game typically going to seven points with spectators placing bets similar to horse racing. Two players are on the court at one time with the winner of the point staying on to face the next player in line while the loser goes to the end of the line.
“That’s one of the most frustrating things about the sport because you can be hot for three points and then someone beats you on a lucky shot or a shot that you usually catch, but you didn’t focus on your motion or technique and then you’re on the bench waiting for seven other players to get back up there or you may not get back up there because they can run the point score,” Davis said. “That’s the most frustrating thing about the sport and the only thing that I don’t like because I would like to play an individual one-on-one and I feel that would show who’s the best player, but the point system is not built for that. It’s built for betting. Even though the best player may not win, the player who played the best wins.”
To enhance his skills Davis spends time practicing at the fronton, working out at the gym, and finding a racquetball court to play at. The extra time is helping, but is a difficult process.
“You’re still not good enough because you’re not getting coached, you’re learning on your own by watching YouTube and looking at your flaws as you go on,” Davis said.
Even with the difficulty of the sport, Davis is enjoying the process. He is working hard to try to be as successful as possible—a trait he had during his time at Southridge as a 2001 graduate before moving on to play at the University of Miami and in the NFL.
“My coaches at Southridge were coach (Mark) Guandolo and coach (Michael) Shapiro and they had a team-first atmosphere and they built that immediately as a freshman on to a senior,” Davis said. “Now you get glorified as a high school kid with all of the social media. We didn’t have that back then so it was easier to mold us and have us understand it was team first and then you second. The Wing-T offense was similar to that because one little thing that messes up, the play falls apart. Southridge molded me to insert myself into the University of Miami.”
While at UM, Davis starred in track winning the Big East Conference title in the indoor 60-meter dash. He also played wide receiver and cornerback for the Hurricanes.
He went undrafted in 2006 and joined the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent as a rookie where he was a member of the Colts’ practice squad, earning a Super Bowl ring. He also spent parts of two
seasons with five other NFL teams.