In the weeks since Tennessee's season-ending loss at Kentucky, former Vol Jabari Davis had his fill of the negative chatter that seemingly engulfed the program.
Accompanied by freshman running back Devrin Young and a support system of friends and colleagues at Patria Foster Care Center, Davis did his best Sunday to shift that focus to the opposite end of the spectrum. The "J-Train" helped make Christmas come one week early for 34 foster children, whose ages ranged from tots to teens, as he emceed an early-evening dinner that ended with gifts galore.
"If you look in the media and look on TV, everything is all dramatic about Tennessee football. Dooley this, Dooley that," said Davis, who was UT's go-to tailback near the goal line in a college career that ended in 2004.
"It's about the kids. Let's not focus on Tennessee football and what the dramatic season they had and let's focus on the holidays and most importantly giving these kids some gifts and bring some smiles on their faces."
Motivated by his grandmother, who died last year after a battle with cancer, Davis said the event came together in a matter of three weeks. He'd put together similar charitable events in his native Atlanta, but this was his first in Knoxville.
He doesn't plan for it to be the last.
"As long as I see kids doing things the right way and keeping themselves on track when the world is so cruel and corrupted," Davis said. "A lot of these foster kids, they're not making excuses. I know they can't control where they came from. They're wonderful kids and let's reward the kids."
For Young, joining up with a player he grew up watching for such a cause was a "no-brainer."
The UT running back of the past and the UT running back of the present/future met during the early part of the season.
Knowing that Young didn't have a bowl game on his schedule and wasn't going anywhere outside the city for Christmas vacation, Davis said he knew the former Bearden High star had no choice but to help by autographing footballs, basketballs or whatever else the children wanted signed by their "hometown hero."
"It's definitely more cheerful knowing that you're giving back and helping others and not just thinking about yourself," Young said.
Young and Davis both canvassed the room while the children tore into their allotted stacks of presents. The gifts, whose purchases were supplemented by donations from a number of local businesses, ranged from stuffed gorillas, to bicycles and board games.
When he wasn't signing footballs or mingling with the children, Young was snapping photos with his phone.
"A lot of kids know him and a lot of kids don't know who I am," Davis said. "I don't mind that because I played going on seven, eight years ago. He can draw some kids in and we can link together.
"We still got that bond that we both played at Tennessee and we both played running back. Link together and make something happen. Not just this year but let's do it every year."
Davis, who just wrapped up his second year as the coach at Episcopal School, is set to graduate from UT with a degree in sociology either by the end of spring semester or midway through the summer. He said he's unsure where he'll reside during the next stage of his career, but if it's anywhere close to Knoxville, he assured there would be more events like Sunday's — no matter the time of year.
"As long as I'm here," Davis said, "I'm going to do a lot for the community."