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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Looking Back wtih David Davis

Kicking It in 2001
by Mojack

At this time six years ago, March 2001, Pete Carroll was getting ready for his first Spring practice. (photo left: David Davis at Spring Huddle 2002) It was a time of unrest in the world of Trojan football, fans and alumni had just finished suffering from the Paul Hackett era, and the fax machines in Heritage Hall were still cooling down from all the letters of protest written in December 2000 to denounce the hiring of former NFL coach Pete Carroll.

At the same time, the Thundering Herd was an idea growing to fruition on the Trojan football message boards, and the original Herders were changing their season tickets to Section 11, ready to pounce into the unknown and support the Trojans unconditionally

And David Davis had just signed a letter of intent to attend USC in the fall. David was a highly sought after placekicker from El Camino College (ECC). He was a 2000 J.C. Grid-Wire All-American second team pick as a sophomore, when he hit 11-of-15 field goals and 29-of-31 PATs. This peaked the interest of USC special teams coordinator Kennedy Pola, who made getting Davis to USC a priority.

David won the starting placekicking duties in the fall of 2001, and as a junior he kicked for the Trojans throughout Pete Carroll’s rookie season. He was on the field when USC beat San Jose State, and he nailed three clutch field goals in a hostile environment at Oregon to help Troy come back in a game that they eventually lost late in the 4th quarter. David experienced the high of contributing to the UCLA shut out 27-0, and also the low of the futile Las Vegas Bowl loss.

Then 2002 came. All Herdmembers and Trojan fans remember 2002. Carson Palmer’s coming out party and Heisman trophy campaign. Troy Polamalu and the first 31 point destruction of Notre Dame. Another beat down of UCLA, and finally the Iowa thrashing in the Orange Bowl, USC’s first BCS berth in their current run of five straight. David Davis started that 2oo2 season as the starting placekicker, but was injured early in the season, which limited his playing time, and his senior year wasn’t as productive as 2001. David graduated USC and moved back East where he has played four seasons with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pioneers of the Arena Football 2 League.

As we stated earlier, the Trojan football ride that Pete Carroll has taken all Trojans fans on started in 2001, and most of us have only lived vicariously through our favorite team; going to practices, games, standing and cheering for our Trojans, but David had first hand experience of Pete’s inaugural year, which was the beginning of this Trojan dynasty. It was a memorable time for Trojan fans, and we thank David for graciously answering our questions about his Trojan career, and for sharing his insight about his Trojan football journey. The David Davis interview follows below:

What was your recruiting like? You transferred from El Camino J.C., what happened out of high school that prevented you from going to a Division 1 school? Kennedy Pola recruited you. He was very well liked when he coached at USC. What can you say about Coach Pola? Finally, what sold you on USC?

My recruiting was actually a very quick process. we both made efforts in contacing one another (USC and myself), and at the end of it all it came down to me getting myself academically eligible. I had to load up on my general ed classes, and a few other classes that USC wanted to see me have. Once the education part of it was completed and I was able to graduate, it was off to report to summer training camp.

Coming out of high school I had already made up my mind on becoming a Firefighter/Paramedic. So once I started my academics at ECC (El Camino College), it was all medical/EMS related courses I was taking. I came to that conclusion because I knew in terms of size and strength, football wasn't going to be an option for me. (photo right: David Davis at a Rose Bowl tailgate) However, playing soccer was a must for me from the minute I attended ECC. I did have one interest to play football at a school in Wisconsin coming out of high school. However, not to be a kicker but a receiver. I was an average receiver at the time, not very fast but could catch the ball when we needed it. And that was the extent of it.

Coach Pola was a great coach! He knew how to fire up the guys when the bodies were bruised, our the minds stretched (Practices/Meetings). Personally, at the time he was a great fit for me. Meaning, he was there to coach me up and not let me get big-headed. He always told us, "The media is going to write the good and the bad. The minute you start believing them it's your fault.” Not to say that I was big-headed, but what he was trying to say was that the moment you start believing in your own press, you feel you don't have to practice as hard, missing things here and there. And he was there to remind you, and knock you back into place.

Statistically I started the season (2001) out strong, and because of him and his ways he helped me to finish strong. He didn't let the media interrupt not only my performance, but the performance of my teammates. I had always watched games on television growing up, and the fact that I could play in front of a home crowd and my family, is what sold me on USC.

Looking back on the experience, all the people that I met, and the friendships made was a true blessing. (photo left: Keary Colbert) When I do appearances (reading to elementary school kids, for example) for my Arena football team, the kids always ask me who I played with? And to see their faces light up with excitement when you mention guys like Troy Polamalu, Carson Palmer, Keary Colbert, K. Udeze...So the time I was given to play at USC was a real blessing and could not be more thankful for that opportunity.

Can you do a brief recap of your career for us?

I really started kickng at ECC. Did two years at ECC. Earned a scholarship to USC (Which I believe I had some help from coach Sark, and forever grateful to Joe Furlow for the countless hours of helping me with my kicking). I played two years at USC, and now I just completed my third season in Arena 2 football. I was just in camp with the Nashville Kats, and have had various workouts with different teams around the league.

Who were some of your favorite teammates? Do you still keep in touch? What was it like playing with Carson and Troy Polamalu and Sean Cody, for example?

You know what, honestly all the players on the team were my favorite. The entire athletic training staff! EVERYONE! I never had a bad experience with any of them. They were always nice and respectful towards me, so they were going to get nothing less from me. The entire coaching staff was great. Coach Carroll I believe is in his ideal coaching element (Coaching college kids vs. pros). He has the perfect personality to help develop great athletes, and does it with great enthusiasm!! I especially enjoyed being around individuals like Troy, Carson, Matt Hayward...Godly individuals who helped me be a stronger person in faith. (photo right: Carson Palmer) I try to get in touch with Troy being that he's a couple hours from me, but for the most part I'm not (although I would love to be). My entire special teams unit, especially David Newberry. When I came in my junior year and we battled it out for the position, he could've easily been negative towards me. He was just the opposite, and helped me out tremendously. He helped prepare me for what college football was all about.

Did you know Mario Danelo? How did you feel about being a former Trojan kicker during this tragedy? In the tribute to Mario Danelo, a few players mentioned that he was "one of the guys" and not considered "just a kicker." There is that stereotype of the kickers being outcasts on football teams. Not saying that you were an outcast, just getting your opinion of how you were treated, and your opinion of that stereotype.

I knew Mario enough to say hello and see how things were going, but nothing really more than that. But in talking with some of the guys I knew (Kileen/Malone) they always had great things to say about him, he was a fun loving individual. I felt terrible for what had happened and what his family was going through. Personally, I felt as though I had lost a friend/teammate (Even though we never actually played together). My dad called me the morning of and told me the news. I couldn't believe it! I remember just sitting down and thinking back on my experiences I shared with him, and couldn't help but think of the devastation his family was going through (especially his brother).

Coming into summer training camp the guys really didn't know me, so I was referred to as the "Kicker" instead of "David." But as I performed well through camp, my real name soon took place of "Kicker." You know even ‘til this day, I don't understand the whole stereotype. And you would think someone who has played the position would understand it. They say kickers are a different breed, and they're in their own little world. I guess you could say there is some truth to that. (photo right: Mario Danelo) To be able to handle the pressures that come with the position, only getting one play to shine, you're either the hero or the goat...I guess you would need to be in your own little world. I read a book once on golf and Tiger Woods. The part that jumped out at me the most was, with all the possible shots in golf you have to make, he practiced this one shot for a month and a half straight. I don't think people realize sometimes how much hard work, focus, and attention to detail kickers have to go through. So just as Tiger needs to practice his technique on one shot, the same is true for kickers. Personally when I am referred to as a "Kicker" and not my name, it annoys me! It tells me that the guys on the team don't have the respect to treat me like a fellow teammate, and it comes across as condescending, like my position isn't important (But how many games are won by kickers). Every situation is different really. I think if you prove yourself just like everyone else, there's no problems. If you struggle and can't measure up, you're easily subjected to criticism. Fortunately all my experiences really have been positive ones, and I think that's how it was for Mario and the team at USC.

What was it like playing for a growing legend like Pete Carroll? Your first year in 2001 was his first year, and his success as well as the USC dynasty has blossomed. It's coincidental that 2001 was also the Herd's first year, so we've ridden along with this surge of Trojan success also. Back to the question, what was it like playing for Pete that first year, and what changes did you see taking place as USC came into its own during 2002?

Knowing that I was going to play for coach Carroll was an awesome feeling! I worked really hard with my kicking coach Joe Furlow all through my recruitment process. But to know I had a NFL head coach interested in me and my capabilities was amazing, and I enjoyed every minute of my two years. I think the biggest change going into the ‘02 season was the difference in mentality. And that mentality was established from senior leadership, and those last couple games leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl. Even though we lost the Las Vegas Bowl, I think that was the turning point when that championship mentality emerged. Not only from a players standpoint, but the coaching as well. Everything from preparation to recruiting. All phases of college football at USC just seem to pick up with confidence, and I think that's what set our success in motion! The guys really started to believe in what was going on, and worked very hard.

A lot of Trojan fans and Herdmembers enjoy the open practices of the Pete Carroll tenure. The Huddle is getting huge. Pete encourages fan interaction with the players and coaches, and Pete has especially embraced the Herd. What did you think of Pete's practices and how did you interact with Trojan fans in general?

The way coach Carroll addresses his practices are really unprecedented. How many coaches do you know will be busy doing one thing at one end of the field, stop what he's doing, and run to the other side to jump in on a loose ball recovery? That's the kind of thing that pumps players up. To see their leader showing that much emotion over something that could be easily over looked. Yeah coaches stress to their players how important turnovers are, but do they do with the hype and intensity coach Carroll does?!!

It is really hard to mimic game speed and tempo. Coach Carroll does a phenomenal job at making sure each individual drill, and team period is game speed (So do the coaches). And that plays a vital roll when it comes to getting these players ready. When it comes time to step on the field, they have confidence they can perform because they've done it all week. It's nothing new to them, just new faces on the other side of the line. I think it's great to have team/fan interaction. It's humbling in a sense, and helps hit home why we do what we do. The grueling hours in the weight room, watching film, going to meetings. The greatest is when little kids are involved. It's almost like you put them in "Awe." You can talk about nothing for 20 minutes, and they'll look at you with such interest and amazement! That's why you play college football, that's why the long hours and dedication is so worth it!!

What was the bowl experiences like for you? You went from going to the Las Vegas Bowl to the Orange Bowl the next year. What was it like to experience that part of the Trojan turnaround? That 2002 team was the start of the current dynasty. How do you feel about being a part of that?

The bowl experiences were a lot of fun! Being able to participate in the festivities, seeing new places and new things. Being able to experience the turnaround was a neat thing! Not only was I on a good team with great players, but I walked out of there knowing how to reach down and prepare myself to the fullest! I think the rest of the guys felt the same way, and that's when we started to see the success! I am very proud to know that I was a small part to the huge success you see today! And the rest of the guys on the team should feel the same way.

You've seen the Trojans go on major streaks against their rivals the last few years, the 2006 UCLA game doesn't need to be included in this conversation. What was it like to be a part of that and beat UCLA? And what was that loss like at Notre Dame in 2001 before the winning streak started?

Being involved in rivalry games is awesome. That is another big reason why sports and college football is an awesome game. (photo left: David Davis, USC Roster pic) It doesn't matter how successful a team is, those are the games you always have to show up because it could haunt you in the end (Just as we saw). It's real easy to get caught up in all the festivities on campus, that's where having a great coaching staff comes into play. They probably ride us more that week than any other week. And once it's time for big bowl games, they ride us hard again.

A loss at Notre Dame is always hard, just as the one back in 2001. The respect these two teams have for one another is astonishing. As a player, I was honored to have been able to play in a such a prestigous, and highly respected game. Growing up, my brothers followed the Irish. So for me to be playing in that game years later, was a reward in itself. Running down the tunnel, and coming out on to that field is an experience I will never forget.

Reading an old article about your first year, you were at one time EMT certified and looking into becoming a Paramedic. What happened with that field? And what are you doing now? Did you have any thoughts of a career in football? Playing? Coaching?

I was working as an EMT/Firefighter up until the time USC was interested in me. Being on scholarship, it would've been IMPOSSIBLE to work 12 hours, sometimes up to 72 hours. It really depends on where you're stationed, and what their shifts call for.

As of right now I am becoming certified to train dogs. I am being certified through a privately owned business "Designing Dogs" by Alan Finn on the East Coast. Upon completion, I will be able to work with clients in their homes, police dogs, search/rescue, and service dogs. The more I work with these animals on a day to day basis, the more passionate I become about it. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to Alan when my girlfriend (Briana) and I needed our dog trained, and I haven't looked back since.

I am currently trying to make a career in the Arena Football League. I am entering into my 4th season with the Pioneers, an Arena Football 2 team. I'm gaining more exposure through being invited into AFL training camps, and am really just waiting for an opportunity. When it comes to coaching, I'm not really looking to pursue that any time soon. I work with a couple of kids throughout the year on the side, but nothing too serious.

Does a kicker need to have a different mental make-up, maybe like a closer in baseball, to do things like attempt field goals with the entire game/season on the line? If so, how? If not, how do you avoid the pressure?

I think kickers do need to have that mentality of a closer. Look at how many games in college and NFL come down to the kicker. Joe Furlow always told me, "Make sure when taking your steps you do the same thing over and over until it becomes second nature.” He stressed that so much to me because, when you do get in those pressure kicks you can block out your surroundings and make the kick, because it's what you practiced. In reading articles and what I've found through my own experience is, having confidence makes all the difference.

Placekicking comes down to about 80% mental, 20% physical. Having sound technique and proper form is everything, but the mental aspect of the game is just as important. There is really no way to avoid the pressure, as a kicker that's always going to be a constant. It's the nature of the position, and one needs to learn how to manage it, rather than avoid it.

Does a kid who wants to be a D1 kicker have to do special things--like summer kicking camps, private coaches, etc.?

I think if a kid wants to become a Division 1 kicker, they need to invest the hours of hard work and dedication. Yes, having a coach there who knows what he/she is talking about is invaluable (Thank God for Joe). Having someone there who understands the mechanics, and someone who can correct the small mistakes, makes a tremendous impact.

I think if someone is unable to work personally with a coach, then attending a kicking camp would be very beneficial. Once you build a strong foundation and learn the proper technique, who knows what the future holds. The success of a kicker depends on the drive and determination of the athlete. If mediocre is acceptable, then mediocre is what you'll get. That's where having a kicking coach, or some form of kicking camp knowledge will help someone stay focused. As a kicker myself, I firmly believe in kicking camps, and working with individual kicking coaches to be the best kicker possible.

What is your current relationship with Trojan football?

My current relationship is nothing really. I have been on the East Coast now for the past 3 years, and living with my Grandmother along with the rest of my family. My girlfriend and I try to make trips out there to see my immediate family over my bye weeks. Then we come out again at the end of the season. When I am out there, I make trips up to USC to see the coaching staff, and the strength coaches. I was fortunate to have made some wonderful friends in my 2 years there.

It's always nice to see Coach Sark, being that we first met at El Camino and to see how much success he's having. I keep in touch with a few friends that I met once I started attending USC. But for the most part, it's difficult to stay in touch with life out there when life back here is non stop.

What's your opinion of the sold-out Coliseum and the seeming frenzy of the fans compared to the relatively hollow (or shallow) level of support that USC fans gave to PH in the last year of his tenure at USC?

When it comes to fans, it's really hard to explain why they do what they do. I think the bottom line though for a fan is to see your team winning, and if you're not winning, the fans are the first to turn on you.

Before Carroll entered into USC, it just seems as though there really wasn't a lot of hype with NFL coaches making the transition into NCAA. Then here comes coach Carroll and his NFL resume, suddenly kids are interested and USC is back on the map. I know personally I was excited to know he was coming into the program because of his NFL history. So if the fans felt the same way, that could be a reason as to why attitudes were so different between the two coaches. It's always funny though to see "Fans" come out of nowhere once a team is doing well.

Now I don't mean that in a harsh/mean way or anything, but look at the number of USC fans my senior year vs. what we're seeing now (I'm not referring to season ticket holders for the past 20 years). And it's not just here that happens, it happens everywhere on all levels of sporting. So when you bring all these factors and others not mentioned into the scenario, I can see why it would seem as though the support for Coach Hackett was next to none.

Finally, can you sum up your feelings about your time at USC, about being a part of Trojan football history, and of your feelings about the Trojan family?

My experience at USC was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Watching college football and the NFL was a must growing up in my family. With my dad going to Penn State, growing up with Notre Dame fans for brothers, following Rutgers because of my mother, and me really staying neutral. Football and sports in general was a huge part our lives!

Now with having the Trojan family as my alumni and being in a small part of that history, I could not be more proud and honored! The Trojan family, in my personal experience, has been nothing but supportive. When my job was up for grabs after Kansas State and getting hurt the following week, no one ever had anything bad to say. People actually seemed more supportive, and pushed me to get better and to get back out there. I've made great friends and stayed great friends with those in the Trojan family. And had it not been for my experience at USC, unfortunately, I wouldn't have them as friends today. When you're in the middle of it all (going to class, study hall, 6am workouts) it's easy to get bogged down with everything, but in retrospect, every minute of it was worth it!! From the very first workout in summer training camp (I threw up afterwards because of the intensity) to leaving Pro Player stadium in the Orange Bowl, all my hard work on and off the field has prepared me to face any and all obstacles. The people that I've crossed paths with in my two years at USC helped shape, and refine me as an individual. Whether it be Joe critiquing me, Coach Pola ripping me a new one, my tutors instructing me, or my parents being my was one of the greatest times of my life!

Thank you for asking me to be a part of this, and wanting to hear about my experiences!!!

David Davis #48

1 comment:

Brooks said...

Fight On, DD. Good luck in the Arena League.