AUBURN, Ala. -- On Tuesday, less than 72 hours after his game-winning field goal return to beat Alabama, Chris Davis tweeted: “When something is taken from your grasps, it's not punishment, but opportunity for your hands to receive something better.”
He could be referring to his own missed opportunity at the 2010 BCS national championship game or the multiple injuries he’s battled during his time at Auburn. But maybe it goes deeper. Maybe Saturday’s incredible field goal return was part of the reward for everything he has been through. For his youth in a tough neighborhood, his trials at Auburn and devotion to a family that has become his center point.
“Chris is a champion,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said after the game. “He’s one of our seniors, and he’s had his ups and downs."
Davis grew up in inner city Birmingham and attended Woodlawn High School, a school not known for producing Division-I athletes. Sure, its alumni include legendary coach Bobby Bowden and David Langner, the hero from the 1972 Iron Bowl, but the demographics have changed significantly since those days.
The school no longer offers the same opportunities it once did, and according to former coach Bruce Breland, it was easy to get caught up in the wrong crowd. But Davis was different.
“He stayed to himself as far as not allowing any of the outside distractions that could’ve pulled him away,” Breland said. “He stayed focused on his grades. He carried himself well. He dressed nice. You never saw him hanging around any of the bad kids.
“In fact, you’d see him sometimes maybe talking to someone else about being disappointed in them and about them not going to class.”
Davis’ wisdom did not belie his gifts on the football field. He did a little bit of everything for Woodlawn. He played quarterback, running back and wide receiver. He even played defense in critical situations when the team needed a stop. But above all else, he was most dangerous in the return game.
From Recruiting Nation’s scouting report: “A gifted and talented return specialist that fields the football and darts north and south, often jetting by the coverage units; makes sharp cuts without losing speed. Shows the talents to take the ball back the distance for six points.”
But even with his skill set, things didn’t come easy once he enrolled at Auburn in 2010.
As a freshman, he played sparingly on defense and special teams, yet he found a way to make an impact in every game along the way. Every game except for the BCS national championship. He dressed out against Oregon and rolled his ankle on the opening kickoff, missing the rest of the game. The Tigers won, but it was painful having to watch from the sideline.
“He was disappointed that he hurt his ankle, but he was still thrilled to death for the team,” Breland said. “He wasn’t selfish about it.”
Davis started 11 games at cornerback as a sophomore. He finished with 60 tackles, four pass breakups and a forced fumble. However, much like what happened to the rest of the program at Auburn, he went through a difficult 2012 campaign, riddled with injuries, and only started six games. Gene Chizik and most of the coaching staff was fired after the worst finish since the Tigers went 0-10 in 1950.
It didn’t faze Davis, though. He was determined to return to form as a senior under Malzahn, a fresh start proving to be just the thing the team needed.
Not only has Davis been able to stay healthy, he’s exceeded expectations in his final season. He currently leads Auburn with 65 tackles and 12 pass breakups. He’s developed into the team’s most dependable cornerback and arguably the most important player on the defense.
“He's a very physical corner,” Malzahn said. “He's a very good tackler. He's meant a lot to our defense this year.”
But after Saturday’s game, he’ll be remembered more for his iconic play on special teams. It has made him a rock star on campus. On Monday, he received a standing ovation from his geology class. He might not ever have to buy a drink on campus again. He’ll go down in history for his return that beat Alabama.
“He’s a hero around here right now,” said fellow defensive back Ryan Smith. “He’s on top of the world.”
To Smith, there's no one more deserving of the fame and recognition than his roommate and the team's senior captain.
“We didn’t know each other before we came here, but now we’re just like brothers,” Smith said. “I love him like a brother. He’s a great role model on and off the field. He tries to do the right things. It’s paying off for him because everything he’s getting, he deserves.”
For Davis, that sense of family rings true. He stuck out tough times with his teammates and came through for them as he has done all season. As for the play that will have Davis in Auburn lore forever? Davis’ penultimate moment came in front of his 3-year-old son and could provide both with something better.
"You know, I play for a whole lot of people instead of me,” Davis said. “I've got to provide for my family, and through this game, I've got a good chance of doing that. That's why I go out every Saturday and play like I do."