If everything works out the way Davenport has planned, his newest hustle—pro football—will put an end to selling discount hardware. He was the 16th-round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers, and though he has limited experience, both he and Charger Coach Sid Gillman are optimistic. "He's a risk, but a risk well worth taking," Gillman says. "The big question is whether he can catch the ball." Says Davenport, "If I work, I think I can make it."
So, in contrast to his hurdling beliefs, Davenport goes out on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to run patterns and learn cuts and catch the football. His coach is his best friend, Bob Bennett, who was a quarterback for Southern. "He has come a long way," Bennett says. "The other day, after 2� hours, his tongue was dragging. By the time I'm through with him, he'll be ready. If they give him a chance, he'll stay. He's that kind of a competitor."
On a recent Thursday, Bennett and Davenport were out—even though it was raining. They did sideline patterns, hooks, curls, slants, posts. For every one Davenport dropped he had to run two more. "C'mon, coach, ease up, will you?" he said. "Keep running, Davenport," said Bennett. "It's the only way you're going to learn." "Dammit," said Davenport. Then he took off on his sixth straight Go pattern, catching the ball some 60 yards downfield.
Most of Davenport's experience in football has been at defensive halfback. At Southern he played cornerback as a sophomore and junior, switching to flanker for the final half of last season, after he returned from the Olympics. "I prefer defensive halfback," he says. "I'd much rather hit than be hit." Gillman, who is naturally planning to try Davenport at split end (he is 6'1", 185), says, "He can have a shot at offensive tackle if he wants it."
However, before football camp comes the outdoor track season. "By the time I'm through in track," Willie Davenport said on a recent evening, "I want those hurdling records to have no one's name on them but yours truly." Except for two high hurdles records, the 120 outdoor and the 60 indoor, which he shares with people like Lee Calhoun, Earl McCullouch and Hayes W. Jones—they do.
But, he realizes, this glory is ephemeral. "Sure I like the attention I get and I'm proud of my success," he said that evening. "It makes me feel good to realize I've accomplished something. But this is a dog-eat-dog world, man. If you want something, you have to go out and get it or you'll be eaten alive." He laughed. "This won't happen to me. Because, you see, by the time I'm 35 I want to do nothing but retire and have babies."