For four straight years, Jason Davids has produced loud roars from the crowd competing at 142 pounds for the Gophers wrestling team. But three months ago, the fearless senior stepped into a dangerous new arena, filled with roaring tigers, lions, cougars and leopards.
Intrigued by the wildlife featured on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Nature Channel, Davids grew up with an avid interest in big cats.
Recently, after learning about The Center for Endangered Cats on the news, Davids visited the site and landed a part-time internship. In the midst of the Gophers rigorous dual meet season, the two-time All-American spent his free time in his hometown of Forest Lake, Minn., familiarizing himself with the center’s endangered cats.
“I got into it right away,” he said. “Every night that I had off of practice I’d go there.”
Since then, he has gotten the opportunity to help out with events that show off the big cats to Minnesota audiences, and just this week accepted a job offer to work with the cats full-time this summer.
“People dream about seeing these cats in a wild setting,” Davids said. “When I got the opportunity to actually touch them and work with them it was just amazing. The job was something I couldn’t pass up.”
While still apprehensive about a few of the center’s intimidating felines, Davids is fascinated by the agility and strength of the endangered animals — traits that might not be seen in captivity.
Minnesota’s all-time record holder for career dual meet wins, Davids also views his new position as a way to educate people about wildlife conservation. A natural resources and environmental studies major, he believes public awareness is a key to preserving endangered cats.
“I would like to see them conserved in the wild. One way to do that is to teach the general public how these animals work and what needs to be done to save them,” Davids said. “With that knowledge we can better raise funds and make programs to keep these animals alive.”
While excited to continue his new line of work, Davids still has some unfinished business left on the mat. Ranked third in the nation at 142 pounds, Davids hopes to capture a national title next week in his final three days of college competition at the NCAA tournament in Cleveland.
Last weekend after losing to Iowa’s Jeff McGinness in the 142-pound finals, Davids placed second at the Big Ten Tournament. McGinness leads the series 2-1, defeating Davids in their last two meetings. The rival seniors are likely to encounter each other one last time in the NCAA semifinals this weekend. While aware of McGinness’ strengths, Davids’ confidence is undaunted.
“It’s going to be another brawl,” Davids said. “I’m going out there knowing that the only way to get to the finals is to beat him. I know I can beat him because I’ve done it before.”
His focus on preparing for what might be the most important tournament in his career has left Davids little time to think about his pending retirement. Gophers assistant coach Joe Russell said that after four years as the Gophers’ 142-pound spark, generating match momentum through his ferocious wrestling style, Davids will be missed.
“It’ll be different not seeing him out there in his Gophers uniform ripping peoples heads off, wrestling really hard,” Russell said.
While the words “ripping peoples heads off” will hopefully be far from Davids’ future vocabulary while working with tigers, lions, cougars and leopards, the phrase is an accurate description of his usual wrestling habit. This season he owns a 29-2 overall mark, recording 14 pins on the way.
A consistent winner on the mat, Davids recognized the unique work ethic that was instilled in him throughout his time at Minnesota. Whether it be advocating wildlife preservation or teaching a stubborn tiger to sit, the Gophers veteran is confident he is prepared for any arena he is thrown into.
“Once you leave the University of Minnesota you know that there is no job out there that could possibly be harder than what you did for five years here,” Davids said.