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San Jose State running back Yonus Davis leaves the field after practice in San Jose on Aug. 09, 2007.

SAN JOSE -- Yonus Davis, once a wunderkind running back for San Jose State and later in the Canadian Football League, will spend nearly the next three years in a federal prison for his involvement in peddling massive amounts of the party drug Ecstasy.

U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen on Thursday sentenced Davis to 33 months in prison for his conviction on a charge of illegally importing the drug from Canada, capping an abrupt fall for an elite athlete whose legal troubles cost him his job with Canada's British Columbia Lions. Davis had pleaded guilty to the importation charge.

The 28-year-old East Oakland native was arrested two years ago when federal agents nabbed him with 67 pounds of Ecstasy at the Milpitas home he was renting. The bust was a result of a sting operation in which Davis told undercover agents he was planning to sell 40,000 tablets of the drug.

The sturdy, 5-foot-7, 190-pound running back played for San Jose State between 2003 and 2008, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2006. In 2010, his first season with the Lions in Canada, he emerged as one of the league's leading kick returners, but was cut loose the next season after his arrest.

Dressed in orange jail garb, Davis spoke briefly to Jensen, saying, "I understand what I have done."


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Charles Nash, Davis' running backs coach at San Jose State, spoke on his behalf, recounting Davis' troubled background for the judge. Davis also received numerous letters of support for leniency, including from former San Jose State head coach Dick Tomey.

Davis' lawyers urged Jensen to impose only a 21-month sentence, citing his childhood as the son of a murdered father and crack-addicted mother. In court papers, Varell Fuller, a deputy federal public defender, told Jensen that Davis' life is "in ruin," and that he's "a man who has hit bottom."

Federal prosecutors, however, urged Jensen to impose a 51-month sentence. "Davis did this for money," government lawyers argued. "He had a flourishing career and that wasn't enough for him."

Jensen said that punishment was too harsh, telling Davis that he must make better choices and heed the advice of former associates, such as Nash, once he's released from prison.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz