August 17, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
It did not take long for the AUDL West Division to understand the seismic impact that Antoine Davis could inflict upon his opponents. When he joined San Francisco in 2017, a relatively unknown 23-year-old from the east coast, he made a big splash immediately, collecting 12 goals, seven assists, and 10 blocks in his first four games. That felt especially noteworthy considering he was joining a franchise that had also signed three-time champ Beau Kittredge, two-time champ Cassidy Rasmussen, and many other top Bay Area stars that had won back-to-back titles with the San Jose Spiders in 2014 and 2015. Davis may have initially been a somewhat mysterious addition, but opponents recognized quickly that he would be yet another problem that they would have to deal with.
“It felt like he was open all the time and caught anything that was thrown to him,” one West Division vet divulged to me back in early May of that 2017 season, following a single-game performance where Davis had six goals, three assists, and three blocks. “Pretty much anytime Antoine is in the end zone, it is a highlight. I saw a few of his highlights when the season started, and he was super athletic and fun to watch, but I didn’t realize how big he was until I saw him on the field.”
Over the past three seasons, two with the FlameThrowers and one most recently with the Spiders, Davis has brought a fierce athleticism and admirable confidence to the AUDL. An All-Star in 2019, he snagged the dramatic buzzer-beating score to send that unforgettable game into double overtime. A member of the victorious Team KPS, Davis finished that contest with a very respectable three goals, three assists, and 296 receiving yards, the fourth-highest total amongst the 32 players in that stacked exhibition showcase.
Like many of the premier players around the league, Davis’s all-around excellence has developed thanks to voracious hunger to improve and expand his abilities. Before he gave ultimate a try, Davis was a proud and versatile all-sport athlete, who competed in football, basketball, and track in high school. One of the dynamics that particularly endeared him to ultimate—once he finally was convinced the sport was worthy of his time—was the multiple and dynamic skills that were required to become a good player, mixing and matching different tactics from all the other sports he had played in the past. After working out the kinks, it became pretty clear that his broad athletic background combined with his exceptional raw athleticism would enable him to bring a versatile skillset to the highest level.
That was certainly on display back in the 2017 season with San Francisco, where Davis finished as one of four players in the entire league to record at least 20 goals, 20 assists, and 20 blocks, along with Dallas’ Jay Froude, Madison’s Peter Graffy, and Indianapolis’ Rick Gross. Despite being a newcomer on a team with plenty of accomplished playmakers, Davis totaled 44 goals, 22 assists, and 27 blocks for a mighty impressive opening statement season out West. And that year, most importantly, was capped by a thrilling AUDL Championship, as the FlameThrowers edged the Toronto Rush 30-29 in Montreal to win the franchise’s first and only title.
Eager to learn more about his mindset when he joined the Bay Area ultimate scene as an outsider, I connected with Davis to ask about his early memories from that experience. Beyond that, the Q&A inevitably investigated, his ultimate origin story, his top AUDL memories, and what he remembered about becoming Beau Kittredge’s teammate for the first time. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Firstly, how are you and what has your life been like over the past several months? How has your Sports Performance business been impacted by the pandemic?
Antoine Davis: Life is great! About two months ago, I was stuck in The Philippines for their quarantine and was only able to leave in the middle of June. I returned to Arlington, VA, which is my hometown, for three weeks and went back to California for another three weeks to collect my stuff. And now I am currently doing a 2 week road-trip across going to my sister’s place in Atlanta.
Most of this time was spent trying to help people with their physical, mental and emotional wellness and mentoring athletes on how to stay productive during this time. The Sports Performance business took a big hit as clients saw their season vanish before their eyes.
For my personal time, I been just using the extra time to read, connect with people I care about, spiritual growth, introspection, playing video games and watching Netflix and Youtube.
EL: What types of things have you done to continue training recently, and did the news of the AUDL season officially getting canceled impact your motivation levels at all?
AD: I definitely have become more relaxed with my training schedule. I would usually be putting in 20-30 hours per week around this time, but now I kind of just go with the flow. Spending about 10-15 hours per week in spaces that help me improve as a frisbee player. I am trying to use this time to do other things, as most of my last four years has been consumed by ultimate.
EL: Your AUDL career actually briefly began with the DC Breeze in 2015, however your breakout season was unquestionably 2017 with San Francisco. I admit I didn't know much about you as a player prior to that season, but still remember a preseason conversation with FlameThrowers Coach Ryo Kawaoka when he said he expected you to be one of the team's strongest players, which on that roster was mighty high praise. What do you remember about the 2017 tryout process and proving yourself worthy to make that San Francisco team, and how'd your confidence grow over the course of the season as you began to have significant success?
AD: Yeah, years before that season. I have been itching to get on the big stage and show people what I can do.
2017, I was scared. I know I was one of the top athletes at the tryouts, but my frisbee IQ was pretty low compared to everyone else. I spent most of that tryout and season asking for feedback and trying out new things that would best utilize the tools I have.
As I began to find the rhythm and flow of playing elite ultimate, I started to really let loose and showcase my strengths. As I started getting blocks and scoring goals, I tried to stay humble and continue to grow, but I definitely had a little swagger in my step when I arrived to the field.
EL: You’ve previously mentioned how watching Beau Kittredge when you were younger helped elevate your ambitions for the level of ultimate you could play, so I'm curious what it was like being Beau's teammate in 2017? How did playing with him compare or contrast to your expectations, and was there any particular advice or message he ever gave you that stuck with you? What did it mean to you when another teammate, Cassidy Rasmussen, compared you athletically to a young Beau early in that 2017 season?
AD: It was a dream come true to play with him. I was starstruck the first practice I went to with him and all the other stars on the FlameThrowers. Beau and I didn’t talk too much though. I don’t think anyone would like people saying “the next Beau” to a teammate of yours when you are still playing and dominating. I mostly spent my time observing him and guarding him, learning how to use top level athleticism effectively and within a system.
I think he also saw that a bunch of people were trying to give me advice. But I remember one time where I had a mediocre game against Madison because I was playing nervous and scared; he came up to me to say “Yea, stop poaching and go get the disc, that is all you need to do.” It was definitely a bit jarring but it was effective; the simple statement got me out of my head.
I always had confidence in my athletic ability. Throughout my sports career I was usually the fastest or one of the fastest playing on top 10 nationally ranked teams. So to be honest, when I started to get the comparison, that was old news to me.
EL: Before going further, can you briefly share your narrative regarding how you entered into ultimate? What sports did you play growing up, how did you discover ultimate, and when did your passion for frisbee really begin to blossom?
AD: I went to HB Woodlawn and we had a dominating high school program that was called YHB. But I used to make fun of all my friends for playing it until there was a day where one of my friends dared me to come to practice. I told him sure, if they wanted me to embarrass them at their own sport.
I arrived to practice and got reps with the Varsity team and got roasted. There were some athletes out there, and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing but I loved it. The perfect combination of football, basketball and soccer. I was hooked.
That practice happened on a Wednesday and I went to my first tournament that weekend. By my senior year, I quit football, basketball and track so I could play more ultimate.
EL: This chapter of the "Disc In" series is featuring players who have registered 20 goals, 20 assists, and 20 blocks in a season, which you did with the FlameThrowers in 2017. Over the course of your career, how have you balanced the desire to be as well-rounded of a player as possible while also trying to emphasize or specialize in a certain area? Between cutting/receiving, throwing, and defending, which is the category that you still feel you can improve the most in?
AD: Wherever I can be the most effective I will play. There were times this past season, I quarterbacked the offense, had to go get big unders, and go deep to get a mean dunk on people. I want people to have to choose how I am going to beat them, that is the way I think about it.
I am natural defender because of my years as a defensive player in football and basketball. I would definitely say my throwing still needs work; my decision-making is my main weakness.
EL: What do you consider the best AUDL game you've ever played personally? There was a 10-assist, three-goal, one-block game against Seattle in 2018 and also a five-assist, four-goal, two-block, no-turnover game against San Jose that same year...Those are the top games from a plus/minus standpoint, but obviously the stats often don't tell the full story, especially when potentially thinking about a D-line performance where you matched up with and locked down an opponent's key player. It's also easy to go with a great team win like winning the title in 2017, but I'm wondering what you honestly think was the greatest individual game you've had?
AD: I remember that San Jose game; that was probably my best game. I felt like a big kid that game, just having a Peter Pan like playfulness about the whole game. All my throws were connecting and for some reason, they kept letting me go deep.
I remember being really proud of myself that game, I told my girlfriend at the time that this was evidence that my time I put in to be the best player I can be is paying off.
EL: It's been awhile now since the AUDL announced divisional realignment this past offseason, but I'm curious to ask what your initial reaction was to learning that Dallas and Austin would be joining the West Division?
AD: My initial reaction was “More teams to beat!”
EL: Considering you've played plenty of offense and plenty of defense throughout your career, I'll ask you both: who are the toughest players you've had to guard when you've been on D? And who are the toughest defenders that you've had to deal with when you've been on offense?
AD: I hate guarding Goose [Helton]; that is the most nimble old man on earth!
Zach Sabin is someone I have to go 110 percent [against] when he picks me up.
EL: Finishing with a couple non-ultimate questions: outside of ultimate, who's your favorite athlete, and why? What's your favorite team, and why?
AD: LeBron James, no question about it. I think he is the epitome of greatness, not just as athlete but as a man, entrepreneur, father, husband, friend, teammate, mentor, coach, and social leader. I want to be as well-rounded of a person as he is. I’m constantly watching interviews, highlights, documentaries, and games of his.
Lamar Jackson is up there as well; love his swagger and humbleness. I think he is going to the best player the game has seen.
I don’t really follow any teams pretty much, just players now.
EL: What's the best tv show or movie you've watched at some point during the quarantine?
AD: I love watching BoJack Horseman and Last Chance U!