Veteran Thomas Davis brings wisdom and leadership to Chargers
He is entering his 15th season in a league that traditionally chews up tendons and bones and players much sooner than that.
Thomas Davis participated in his only Super Bowl to date with a broken arm. He has had the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee repaired three times, doctors harvesting a slice of his hamstring and bits of both his patellar tendons in order to put the joint back together.
The man is 36.
“When the Chargers signed a 36-year-old linebacker, I’m sure a lot of people were displeased,” Davis said. “For me, it was all about coming in and proving my worth, proving I have a lot left. I want to make them proud I’m on this team.”
After just one training camp, the Chargers are genuinely bursting over the most significant piece they added in a rather quiet offseason.
They have marveled at Davis’ leadership. They have praised his commitment. They have gushed over his ability to blur past them in pursuit of the ball.
Over and over, for months now.
And here’s the interesting thing: Davis is certain those three torn ACLs — each a threat to his career — have allowed him to extend it.
“I think that definitely has given me some time on the back end,” he said. “I’m a 15-year player right now, but I don’t have the pounding of a 15-year guy. I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
Over three seasons — from 2009 to 2011 — Davis appeared in only nine games because of his knee. Otherwise, in his other 11 seasons, he has been the precise opposite of injury prone, missing five games because of injury.
Though Davis’ knee was once delicate, the rest of him never has stopped being dependable.
“He’s a freak of an athlete,” said Chris Harris, the Chargers’ assistant defensive backs coach and a former teammate of Davis. “He’s a freak of a human being too. When he committed to coming back after the third ACL, I knew he’d be fine.”
Davis called Harris soon after the Chargers offered him a free-agent deal in March. It took Harris mere seconds to begin selling the team and the situation, both quite foreign to Davis, who had played his entire career in Carolina.
Harris knew how well his good friend would fit into a locker room that Chargers management has tried so hard to build on a foundation of maturity and responsibility.
He also knew the Chargers could use a linebacker of Davis’ stature, particularly coming off a season with so many linebacker injuries that the team was forced to try to stop Tom Brady by scattering defensive backs all over the field.
Harris had no doubt about what Davis — thrice rebuilt knee, 1,111 tackles and all — still had left to give a team.
“He has great genes, of course, so he has to thank his mom and dad,” Harris said. “But he’s also a true professional. He knows how to take care of his body. To watch him now is quite amazing. I wish I could still do what he’s doing.”
Davis isn’t Brady when it comes to avocado ice cream and organically grown legumes. He said he “free eats,” which means he eats “pretty much whatever I like.”
After Davis’ introductory news conference in March, there was an audible gleeful reaction from both Davis and his wife, Kelly, when they found out Southern California has Chick-fil-A.
And he has never stopped consuming football. He is so gifted athletically that as a rookie in 2005, Davis wore No. 47 for the Panthers and played strong safety.
At 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds, linebacker has long since been woven into his DNA. So too has been leadership, Chargers safety Derwin James admitting, “I thought I was a leader until I met him.”
James called Davis “a watchdog” because he misses nothing that happens on the field. Defensive end Joey Bosa said Davis has called him out for not hustling to the sidelines. Linebacker Kyzir White called Davis “an extra coach.”
“You always try to show players what it looks like,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “They learn better when they can see what it looks like. Well, now they know what it looks like with him in the room.”
The Chargers added all this when they signed Davis. And so much more.
Injuries derailed their 2018 seasons, but Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry are looking forward to be among the best at their positions again in 2019 for the Chargers.
On a mantel back in North Carolina sit trophies for the following awards: the Call to Courage, for displaying character through adversity and triumph; the Bart Starr, for exemplifying outstanding character and leadership, and the Tony Dungy Uncommon, which Davis earned for his work with underprivileged kids.
There’s also a statue depicting one of the NFL’s all-time greats. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recognizes outstanding community service, as well as excellence on the field.
Davis won his Walter Payton in 2014. When he discusses his off-the-field work and his Defending Dreams Foundation — to encourage the development of students — he always uses the words “us” and “we.”
“Thomas is like that big brother that you want to fight, but you know you can’t,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said. “He has been sharing a lot of knowledge. Every day, I’m learning something from him, whether it’s football or life.”
It has been only one training camp. The learning is just beginning.
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