Overcoming a broken forearm in less than two weeks to play in Super Bowl 50 might seem like a Herculean task.
For Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, it’s a modest achievement at best.
“He’s never been someone that says something can’t be done,” his high school football coach Jim McFather said. “A dislocation is minor considering what’s he gone through. I saw him grab his arm during the game and thought it might be broken, but I didn’t see how it was going to stop him from playing in the Super Bowl.”
McFather, who is now a track coach at Schley County, coached Davis at Randolph-Clay High School in Cuthbert, Georgia in the late ‘90s.
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“He had unlimited potential,” McFather said. “He played so many positions for us we needed about six players to replace him.”
McFather marvels at what Davis accomplished as a multi-sport star at Randolph-Clay while dealing with a unique set of circumstances at home in Shellman.
“His mom had to move his senior year,” McFather said. “She lived in a new state (Alabama) about 40 miles away. He didn’t want to leave and basically lived by himself. Surviving is just in his DNA. It’s probably his biggest strength.”
The two maintained a relationship as Davis went from unheralded prospect to a consensus All-American at the University of Georgia — the only Division 1 team to offer Davis a scholarship — to a first round (14th overall) draft pick by the Panthers in 2005.
Davis secured a starting spot in his second NFL season and started 46 of Carolina’s 48 games from 2006 to 2008. He had a career year in 2008 with 113 tackles and 3.5 sacks, but the prime of Davis’ career was cut short by a series of “devastating” knee injuries.
The linebacker tore his ACL in each of the next three seasons.
“When it happens a third time, you really - for me, in my mind - I thought that my career was over, and the reason I thought that (was) because I had never heard of a guy getting another opportunity to play the game after going through three-consecutive ACL tears to the right knee,” Davis said.
Davis became the first player in NFL history to come back from three ACL tears when he started 12 games in 2012. He’s had at least 100 tackles the last four years and missed only one game since 2013.
“It’s pretty amazing,” McFather said. “Who would have blamed him if he stopped three years ago? No one would have. He’s a warrior.”
Davis’ perseverance earned him the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2014 and this year’s Bart Starr Award. The Bart Starr award is given to the player that best exemplifies character and leadership in the community and on the field.
“It shows what kind of man he is,” McFather said of the recognition. “Everything he does, he does with integrity.”
When Davis went down with the forearm injury in the second quarter of the NFC title game against Arizona, McFather couldn’t picture a scenario where the Shellman native wouldn’t be on the field at Levi Stadium for a shot at The Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Davis was in surgery to insert a metal player into his arm less than 24 hours after promising to play in the game.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder reaffirmed his vow Monday on media day.
"Without a doubt, I will be there playing on Super Bowl Sunday,” Davis said.
According to ESPN.com, Davis practiced without limitations this week clearing the way for coach Ron Rivera to name him a starter for Sunday’s game. The 32-year-old will wear a protective arm brace in the game.
“We're coming up with a couple of different things that we're trying out, and it's not going to be a cast,” Davis said. “It's going to be more like a hard brace. That's kind of what we're using - some new technology that they have - and it's going to be something that's going to protect it from all kinds of bumps and bangs.”