At the time, Julién Davenport didn’t realize he was playing on one of football’s biggest stages in his NFL debut.

“I was too focused on doing my job on the field,” Davenport said. “I didn’t realize until after the fact we were playing on Thursday Night Football. It was on at primetime, the only game that day. It was just us and the Bengals. Nobody else. So all eyes were on us on TV.” 

According to TV by the Numbers, over eight million people watched Davenport’s Houston Texans top the Cincinnati Bengals, 13-9, on Sept. 14. While Davenport acknowledged it was “really cool” to make his NFL debut on Thursday Night Football, he said it would have been special regardless.

“It meant a lot to get out on that field,” he said. “Playing in the NFL is what I’ve been working towards. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about. It was big for me to be able to go out there and hit someone.”   

From 2013 to 2016, Davenport started 44 games in a row on Bucknell’s offensive line. So it was only fitting he earned a starting assignment in his first NFL game, even if it came at an unfamiliar position.

With all three of the Texans’ tight ends sidelined with concussions after their season-opening loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Davenport was shifted from his natural left tackle to tight end.

“Julién probably didn’t think his first action would be off the ball as a blocking tight end,” said Bucknell head coach Joe Susan. “He’s a consummate team player who will do anything for his team. When asked to play this role, I’m certain his preparation enabled him to do so at a high level.”

Davenport played at such a high level, it’s hard to believe he had little experience at tight end entering the game.

“I played a little tight end and wide receiver in my younger days, but in real competitive football, from high school on, I was strictly a lineman,” Davenport said. “You’ve got to be flexible in the NFL. Whenever your number is called, you have to be able to do anything to help your team. I was ready for it and answered the call.”

Davenport said his time at Bucknell helped him answer that call, pointing to the Bison’s pro-style offense and dedicated coaching staff as key factors in his success. He also singled out assistant coach Darnell Stapleton, who was an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers the year they won Super Bowl XLIII.

“Bucknell really helped me get ready for this next level,” Davenport said. “I had really good coaches who pushed me to excel in my game because they knew this was my goal. Coach Stapleton was a real mentor; he guided me through the process and shared plenty of advice from his playing days. Bucknell’s schematics also mimicked NFL schematics so I was more prepared than guys who were at schools that ran different offenses.”

Notably, Davenport became the first Bucknell alumnus to suit up for an NFL team since Sean Conover, a 2004 All-American and Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, played five games for the Tennessee Titans in 2007.

“It’s good I can help keep Bucknell football on the map,” Davenport said. “Hopefully, I can inspire the young ones who are currently at Bucknell and those who will play for Bucknell in the future to follow their dreams.”

Asked if he has any advice for Bison who dream of following in his footsteps, Davenport answered without hesitation.

“Stay the course,” he said. “Continue to work as hard as you can, and you will get noticed, just like I did. Before I even stepped on the field as a freshman, I wanted to be the best player on that field and knew my goal was to make it to the NFL one day. From that point on, I took it day by day—to starting as a freshman to achieving many accolades to finally getting to the NFL. So stay the course, and always stay humble.” 

Davenport, for his part, is staying humble and not looking too far into the future. But Susan said he’ll have a bright one in the NFL and beyond.

“He has the opportunity to play a long time in the NFL if he does things the right way,” Susan said. “But the most important thing is he’s a Bucknell graduate. I heard it said to student-athletes at the Senior Bowl: ‘The NFL is not your career, it’s the start of your career.’ The education he achieved at Bucknell will last him a lifetime.”

The Davenport File

  • Taken by the Houston Texans in the fourth round, 130th overall, of the 2017 NFL Draft
  • First Bucknell alumnus since 1969 to be selected in the NFL Draft and seventh overall in team history
  • Five-time All-American (2016 AFCA, AP, STATS and Walter Camp First Team, 2015 STATS Second Team)
  • Four-time All-Patriot League (2016, 2015 & 2014 First Team, 2013 Second Team)
  • One of 13 Patriot League players who garnered all-league accolades four times
  • Played in the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl and participated in the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine
  • Two-time Bucknell team captain (2016 & 2015)
  • Only member of Bucknell’s 2017 graduating class who started all 44 games in his four years

 This feature story on Julién Davenport originally ran in the program for Bucknell's game against Sacred Heart on Sept. 23, 2017.