PHOTO BY RON CHENOY/PRETTY INSTANT

Meet Isaiah Davis-Allen, Harley-Riding Black Laxer Shattering Stereotypes


By all measures, Isaiah Davis-Allen leads an Instagram-worthy life. He’s a motorcycle-riding twenty-something who lives in Baltimore’s trendy Fells Point neighborhood and works odd hours as a project engineer for a commercial construction company. He plays professional lacrosse nearly year-round, as a defender for the NLL’s Philadelphia Wings and midfielder for MLL’s Chesapeake Bayhawks.

If Davis-Allen has the weekend off, he mounts his 2005 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe with its mini-ape hanger handlebars and Python exhaust pipes — “If you don’t see me, you’ll definitely hear me,” he says — and rumbles from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore, down into Virginia and out to the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. It’s a journey full of no-filter photo opportunities. The sunsets alone could steal him a hundred likes.

But IDA, as his teammates call him, has minimal interest in social media. He’ll go months without posting on Instagram. He’s on Twitter in name only, last tweeting in 2015.

“It’s more so being in the moment,” Davis-Allen says. “I have the opportunity to talk with tons of different people. I don’t feel the urge to post that stuff. It’s personal.”


“He’s not putting it on social media. He’s not hunting for his brand. He genuinely cares.”


Pro lacrosse is having a moment right now. MLL’s 20th-anniversary season — a condensed nine-day campaign during which all six teams will be quarantined in Annapolis, Md., due to the COVID-19 pandemic — starts Saturday. The cancellation of the college season in March has only heightened the sense of anticipation.

Each team will play five games in seven days at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The top four finishers will advance to a two-day playoff culminating in the championship game July 26 on ESPN. Plenty will be different about the games, which will all air on the ESPN family of networks. Players will arrive at the stadium dressed and equipped, coaches and support staff will wear face masks and the teams will be placed on opposite sidelines to maximize social distancing.

“It’s going to be like Top 205 Camp all over again,” said Brian Phipps, the Bayhawks’ veteran goalie and also the head coach at Archbishop Spalding in nearby Severn, Md. “The bus shuttles you down, you get out with your stick over your shoulder and bag in hand, loosen up and get ready to go in 95-degree heat on that turf at 9 o’clock on a Sunday.”

MLL booked 2,250 nights worth of rooms at The Westin in Annapolis, where the players will be isolated with the exception of team meetings and a hospitality suite for meals and refreshments. The lack of a locker room means there will be limited opportunities for team bonding, which gives the defending champion Bayhawks an inherent advantage. With five former Maryland players and a host of others who came up playing box lacrosse together in Ontario, there’s built-in chemistry.

Certain stalwarts are gone. Defenseman Jesse Bernhardt defected to the Premier Lacrosse League, which will host its own quarantine tournament starting July 25 in Utah. Midfielder Ryan Tucker retired. Veteran short stick Matt Abbott and MLL championship MVP Steele Stanwick opted not to play this summer. Both have newborn children.

But Chesapeake brings back MLL MVP Lyle Thompson among 14 players returning from the 2019 team. That continuity will be especially important considering the format of the event. Coach Tom Mariano said his staff would have film and scouting reports on all five opponents ready for the players when they arrive for training camp Thursday, but that there would be few opportunities to adjust schemes during the week. Phipps anticipated that the divergent substitution patterns would generate significantly more fast-break opportunities and elongated 6-on-5 sets in favor of the team whose sideline is closest to the ball upon change of possession.

Which is just fine by Davis-Allen, who despite being one of the premier specialists in the sport prefers to do more than just deny opposing dodgers ad nauseum. His uncle, Maurice Davis, played at Rutgers in 1981 and trained him in the ways of the run-and-gun game starting in eighth grade.

“Guys are going to have to play all over the field, and I think that’s awesome,” Davis-Allen says. “The more we get back to how the sport used to be played 70s and 80s, that’s a positive.”








Everything about Davis-Allen is old school. Riding Harleys and valuing privacy are inherited family traits. Davis-Allen’s grandfather used to race sportsters. His father, Frank Allen, rode when he was younger and bought IDA his first crotch rocket. “Big Frank” was a visible figure in the College Park crowd when his son played lacrosse at the University of Maryland, orchestrating the T-E-R-P-S chants and manning the grill at tailgates, but he also frequently leaves the country for work that his son can describe only in ambiguous terms.

“As far as I know,” Davis-Allen says, “he’s a government contractor.”

Then there’s the Davis legacy, which helps describe IDA’s compassion and commitment. A tattoo of the Virgin Mary on the left side of his chest just above his heart reminds him of his mother, Audrey Davis, who died of lung cancer on May 28, 2013 — eight days after Davis-Allen, then a senior in high school, scored the go-ahead goal to lift St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.) to a 7-5 win over Landon (Md.) and its first-ever Interstate Athletic Conference championship and five minutes before he got to the hospital to say goodbye. She was 46.

At the funeral in New Jersey, Davis-Allen’s aunt, Claire Davis, sought out Maryland coach John Tillman.

“She was like, ‘Just know you’re getting a special guy,’” Tillman says. “And she was a hundred-percent right.”

Davis-Allen, who is black, grew up in Springfield, Va., playing baseball and football. When he got to high school, however, he gravitated toward predominantly white sports. In addition to lacrosse, he played hockey and was a member of the swim team. He credited former St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes coach Andy Taibl and Blackwolf Lacrosse founder Joe Trigiani for showing him the way to College Park and making the stick-and-ball game his first love.

Compared to the “shell shock” Davis-Allen says he experienced upon first entering private school — “I had never seen pastel pants ever,” he jokes — the diverse student population at Maryland and inclusive nature of the men’s lacrosse program there eased his transition to college. He played sparingly as a freshman, blossomed as a sophomore and became a two-time captain and first-team All-American the ensuing seasons — a journey that culminated in 2017 with the Terps’ first NCAA championship in 42 years.

Given his aversion to social media, Davis-Allen constructed his platform in other ways. He was featured in The Undefeated for his work as a coach in Prince George’s County introducing young black boys to the sport. He won the 2017 Senior CLASS Award on the strength of a resume that included numerous other community service endeavors. For the last three years, he has served as a coach for Nation United, which fields elite-level lacrosse teams comprised mostly of minority players as part of its mission to inspire more diversity in the sport.

“I’ve always felt like I can make such a big difference with my presence through my history and my experience. It would be criminal not to spread that knowledge with young guys,” Davis-Allen says. “I played so many sports where I was the only person of color on the team. People who I’m talking to who are trying to start playing the game sometimes don’t know how to navigate that situation. That’s some value I feel like I add.”




PHOTO BY JOSH ROTTMAN/EMPTY DUCK DIGITAL


Davis-Allen, 25, might not be an extrovert in the sense that one owns the room or posts prolifically, but he strives to make meaningful personal connections in his every endeavor.

“He’s an old soul,” Phipps said. “A very mature kid that gets life.”

When Tillman’s mother, Elizabeth, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease in April 2017, IDA became an unlikely source of comfort. That Mother’s Day, on the morning of Maryland’s NCAA tournament opener against Bryant, Tillman awoke to a phone call from his senior captain.

“That was just Isaiah,” Tillman says. “‘Hey Coach, just checking in on you.’”

Mariano has come to appreciate Davis-Allen’s penchant for real talk.

“He’s not putting it on social media. He’s not hunting for his brand,” Mariano says. “He genuinely cares.”

Don’t mistake IDA for a softy, however. Part of what made him one of the most effective leaders Tillman says he has ever coached was a no-nonsense attitude that was sometimes jarring for younger teammates — the same approach that has allowed him to be so successful at Buch Construction, a general contractor in the cutthroat D.C. market.

“He’s got a job where there’s times he’s basically working 24 hours a day. He might be going to the job site at 3 a.m. because they’re delivering tile. He may have to fire a subcontractor that may try to fight him because he’s pissed and losing a ton of money,” Mariano said. “And we’re not talking about building houses. We’re talking about building commercial business projects — malls. He’s meeting with people, representing them in their COVID response and it’s a hundred million-dollar job. He’s very intense. He’s extremely competitive. He’s very driven.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Rolling to Annapolis in style. Road to repeat. #2019champions #bayhawks #harleydavidson

A post shared by Isaiah Davis-Allen (@ida__26) on

Phipps says Davis-Allen personifies the position he plays.

“He’s that bring-your-hardhat-to-work, lunch-pail kind of guy. Get your [stuff] done and move on. He doesn’t need accolades. It goes with that short-stick d-middie position,” Phipps says. “I remember last season he’d be working until 3 in the morning and showing up to the walkthrough [hours later].”

On his Harley, of course. Davis-Allen can’t help but be on the move.

“I’m just wired like that,” he says. “There’s so much time in the day.”

Spending up to 12 days in an Annapolis bubble should feel oddly confining for Davis-Allen, but focusing exclusively on lacrosse while playing in a format that caters to his talents could be the perfect recipe for his pro lacrosse breakthrough. Tillman says he’s “one of the best players at his position in the world.” Mariano says he “should be a superstar right now.”

Excellence, Davis-Allen says, is another family tradition. His mother went to Tufts and got her doctorate in neuropsychology at George Washington. His aunt went to business school at NYU. His grandfather owned a factory in New Jersey making airplane parts. His younger sister, Josie, 20, stopped playing soccer at DeSales so she could focus on nursing.

“If you’re going to do something in the Davis-Allen family,” he says, “you better be the best at it.”

Be the best. Where have we heard that before?

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