Gearing up for his graduation from Washington (Ind.) High in 2004, Kelly Davison was cognizant of what was going on in the world around him -- the war on terror was underway in the wake of terrorist attacks, and something was gnawing at the two-way lineman with multiple Division II scholarship offers.
"It's kind of a calling -- I know that sounds cliché, but it's true," Davison said. "Like you just feel like you need to go and serve something more than yourself. I felt like I needed to go and serve my country, because the war was just starting and I felt like I needed to do something greater with my life.
"College was always going to be there. I knew that I could go into the service and then come out and go to school. But the opportunity to go and serve my country wouldn't always be there."
So Davison joined the Marines, embarking on a five-year journey that brought him to faraway places and unspeakable sights. All this time, another itch would not go away, and it is the one that has him now preparing for his second consecutive season as a walk-on at the University of Central Florida.
The 27-year-old Davison is a second-team guard for the Knights, and he is hoping to make the most of his final season of college ball, one that coincides with the program's step up into the American Athletic Conference in 2013.
"It was something that I wanted to do the whole time," Davison said. "I missed football. I missed playing football. And then after being in the military you get used to being a part of something that's bigger than yourself. Not necessarily a team, but it is kind of so when you're out doing your own thing -- you just kind of miss that aspect of it. You miss the camaraderie, the brotherhood of it, the physicality and just the nature of the game. So that's something I wanted to do, and when I had the opportunity to do it I felt like I had to."
Davison had filed all of the necessary paperwork for the military before even breaking the news to his mom, and by 2005 he was in Iraq as a military police officer. After returning from his first tour he was deployed again, this time to Al-Taqaddum.
"It makes you grow up, and you have to grow up fast. You can't just look out for yourself," Davison said. "You go over there and you have your brothers around you -- and you look out for each other and there's real danger all around you, so you have to be on your toes."
Two of Davison's close buddies in the Marines were from West Palm Beach, Fla. The 6-foot-5, 308-pounder fell in love with the state when visiting. After a brief stint at Vincennes University in Indiana -- where Davison competed on the track team -- he and his friends eventually got a place together in Orlando, and Davison attended nearby Valencia Community College.
Once he transferred to UCF, Davison approached football coach George O'Leary about the possibility of walking on in the spring of 2012. The coach peppered him with questions about his background before Davison was given a physical and told to return following spring break.
Despite staying more than active in the years prior, a nearly nine-year absence from the gridiron presented its challenges upon Davison's return, and he credited the coaching staff for helping him get back up to speed.
"I had been out for a while, I had gotten pretty far out of shape, so I actually kind of had to get myself back into shape to just even try to walk on there," Davison said. "I was working hard and doing all this stuff and then I get into the program and start working out with them and it's just totally different.
"It's a lot more strength training. I lifted weights a lot in the Marine Corps, but I was never involved in the sprinting aspect and running as hard as you can into another man that's your size and colliding. So the biggest part of it was kind of how your body takes the impact. You can run and lift all day, but whenever you go out and play football, it's a whole different world."
Davison traveled to every game last season but did not see the field. He is currently slated for the first-team field goal unit, and he says he is happy to be one of the top reserves on an offensive line that surrendered fewer than 1.7 sacks per game while paving the way for more than 181 rushing yards per game last season.
He is not the rah-rah type, but Davison hopes he can lead by example and rub off on his teammates, some of whom were kindergarteners when he was in eighth grade.
"Every now and then some of the guys that I'm close to, they'll ask kind of vague questions," Davison said. "Nobody really tries to ask any gory details of it all. I'm not the kind of guy to go out there and preach to everybody; I'm more trying to lead by example. I do what the coaches tell me to do and do it the best I can, and if the other guys can see that and they can draw motivation from that themselves, then that's the best thing I can hope for.
"But I'm not the type to go out there and scream and yell trying to get everybody pumped up. I'd just rather lead by example more than anything, because if I can be out there doing it at my age, then they can do it at 18, 19 years old."