Despite pot charges, former South Pointe QB hopes to continue playing

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJanuary 4, 2014 

— Before last October, the plan was clear.

Davonta Blake, the starting quarterback at South Pointe High, would graduate in the spring. He hoped to attend a major college. At the top of his list: Clemson University.

There, he’d play football. It’s “just in me,” he said.

Midway through last season, the plan derailed. Police say he sold marijuana to a fellow student on the South Pointe campus. Charged with six felonies, he was led from school in handcuffs and jailed. He was expelled. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in jail.

His future looked bleak.

But his lawyer, Rock Hill attorney Twana Burris-Alcide, predicts Blake’s arrest will ultimately be an alternative path to the teen’s goal – to be back on the field.

“He definitely has the DNA to overcome adversity,” she said. “His path has been redirected.”

‘Like anybody else’

In early October 2013, police escorted Blake, then 17, from South Pointe’s campus after administrators learned marijuana had been sold in school. They found Blake with seven wrapped packages of marijuana – 2.4 grams total – in a large prescription pill bottle.

School officials notified South Pointe’s resource officer, and Blake was taken into custody. Police later searched his home and found a jar filled with 12 baggies of marijuana in his bedroom. He was released on a $30,000 bond a day after his arrest.

Authorities reviewed video surveillance of Blake selling drugs to another student, who later handed off the drugs to a 15-year-old student. Briyana Dickerson, 18, was charged with possession of marijuana. Her case is pending in Rock Hill municipal court, according to court records.

Blake is charged with two counts of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute; possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in proximity to a school; possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute in proximity to a park; distribution of marijuana; and distribution of marijuana in proximity to a school.

Burris-Alcide has sought “alternatives to incarceration” for Blake, including drug court, which is an intensive drug rehabilitation program offered by the York County Solicitor’s Office that wipes away a drug offender’s charges if they successfully complete the classes and stay clean. If drug court participants slip up, even once, they face the full force of the law and they serve the maximum sentence.

Prosecutors will consider Blake’s age, his “culpability” in the October drug investigation, his cooperation with police and his lack of a prior criminal history when arguing the case, said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett.

“Under the eyes of the law, he’s an adult… he’s in an adult court,” Brackett said. “At 13, I’m totally concerned about turning them around. At 15, I am; at 16, still; 17, yeah, but a little less so; 18…19…20, the older they get, the more trouble they get into… I become less concerned about turning them around and more concerned about punishing them and keeping them away from society where they seem bound to do harm.”

That doesn’t mean punishment will be the primary focus when prosecuting Blake, Brackett said. “The worst scenario for a first-time offender… generally speaking... is anywhere from probation on the high end to pre-trial intervention on the low end, just depending on the facts and circumstances on each case,” he said.

He expects the case to be wrapped up before the end of March. Prosecutors will likely consult South Pointe administrators to determine how the school was affected by Blake’s actions, Brackett said. “The primary concern is that this stuff is around kids and shouldn’t be.”

Blake “is not going to be given preferential treatment nor will I allow him to be treated worse than anybody else who is a 17-year-old who is charged with the exact same circumstances,” Brackett said. “He is just a 17-year-old who has been charged with these offenses.”

‘In the fire’

Burris-Alcide says she hopes solicitors consider Blake’s upbringing and future. She called him a “victim to his circumstances.”

“It’s one thing to be focused on the play and playing football and of course your academics, and then (to) wonder where’s your next meal going to come from, where am I going to find money to eat, how are you going to actually keep a roof over your head,” she said. “These are all the things that he has been faced with in life as he progressed through high school.”

Financial strain after his mother lost her job, forcing the family to move in with Blake’s sister and her two sons, motivated the football star to give in to certain “temptations” – all for “survival,” Burris-Alcide said.

“He was…faced with the social ills of life,” she said. “How I’m going to eat; how I’m going to keep a roof over my head at 17, 18 years of age…it’s definitely very distressful.”

His mom, Willette, agreed the family faced financial challenges. “I didn’t have enough to (provide) the next meal for us,” she said, adding that she has a new job and is “getting back on track.”

Blake is reserved by nature, his attorney said, and did not communicate about what was going on at home. She tells him his charges are an “alternative path” to “the same destination God has ordained for you.”

That path has included moving in with an older cousin who acts as a male role model, and taking classes at Keystone Substance Abuse Center that focus on drug rehabilitation.

The worries of life never stressed Blake when he was at school, surrounded by friends and football, he said. It hit him hard when he went home each day.

“It’s hard to play football and go to school and then deal with situations at home knowing that your friends and stuff, they’ve got money, they’re doing all this and all that,” he said, “and you can’t do that because your parents are struggling.”

Burris-Alcide said prosecutors and others “must think long term for Davonta so that he will be able to continue his journey toward success.”

Blake hopes that journey still takes him to a football field.

His love affair with the sport began when he was 5, tossing a football with a friend at a cousin’s football practice. The coach noticed his throw.

“He pretty much just begged me to play,” Blake said.

From there, he played every chance he got.

“I’ve always played quarterback. I’ve played corner, free safety – pretty much wherever I needed to play,” he said. “I never really complained. I just wanted to play.”

His high school football career started when he was a freshman quarterback at Northwestern High School. He transferred to South Pointe in the spring when his family moved to Rock Hill’s College Downs neighborhood.

That following season, as a sophomore, he played free safety and quarterback, playing “behind” quarterbacks such as Tay Hicklin and Devin Pearson.

“I wasn’t really getting any playing time as quarterback,” he said. “I was just playing everywhere else.”

Things changed in 2012 during the third round of the playoffs against Greenwood. The Stallions’ offense was bad, he said, and “they really had a game plan for Devin but at halftime we were down 28-14.”

Coaches threw Blake into the game.

“They threw me in the fire,” he said. “Two plays coming into the second half, I threw a touchdown pass and we were back in the game.”

He later threw a slant route to then-junior Anthony Johnson, who took the team down to the 40-yard line. It wasn’t enough. The Stallions lost 35-30. Still, that night, Blake proved his mettle.

“It’s a passion,” he said. “I love football and I love basketball. It’s something I’ll always do. It’s just in me.”

After his arrest, the former Stallion traveled to all the team’s away games, hitching rides with friends and their parents. He attends Rock Hill’s Renaissance Academy, an alternative school that gives expelled students a second chance. He plans to receive his diploma this spring. He wants to attend a junior college and then transfer to a four-year university “so I can keep playing.”

Clemson is still in his sights; so is quarterbacking. He says he likes the control it brings.

“I feel good throwing the ball 50 yards down the field and just letting my receivers put in work,” he said. “I don’t really believe in lifting weights and doing all that hard work and stuff like that all week and then not being able to get the ball.

“I like to spread the love.”

‘Part of the team’

When word of Blake’s arrest spread, he turned to those who knew him best.

“I talked to close friends, people who I know – they actually know me,” he said. “I heard all the time, people were talking junk, saying this and that. I was just saying, ‘they don’t really know me.’ I really wasn’t worried about it.”

Blake’s charges came three days before the Stallions played their cross-town rival Northwestern. Blake sat out of that game, and Stallions lost 27-0.

“Pretty much after it happened, all my teammates and stuff, they were disappointed but at the same time… they knew the real me,” Blake said. “They still tell me, ‘Look, we love you. You’re always going to be on the team, part of the team.’ 

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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