The Chargers' main 'Vato': Michael Davis' background inspiration for his NFL success

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- There was a time in Michael Davis' life he wasn't sure where he'd be now. But where he is now is a pretty nice place, having just signed a three-year deal worth $25.2 million ($15 million guaranteed) to stay with the Los Angeles Chargers and be close with his mother and son.

"She cried," Davis said about his mom. And he cried along with her.

Nothing like home. Other teams offered more money. But none of them could offer the family-like dynamic that the Chargers possess. And it is the inspiration of family which has helped Davis emerge from being an undrafted free agent in 2017 to a key member of the Chargers' defense moving forward.

Davis was raised by his mother, Ana Martinez, who is from Mexico. His father, who was never in the picture, is Black. He identifies with his Mexican heritage down to the tattoos of Emiliano Zapata, a Mexican revolutionary, on one leg and Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo on the other. He's fluent in Spanish as well and loves the nickname that Chargers safety Jahleel Addae gave him during his rookie year in 2017 -- "Vato," which means dude, homeboy or friend.

It stuck. Now everybody calls Davis "Vato."

According to information provided by the NFL in 2019, 41.1 percent of Chargers fans are Hispanic, the largest percentage of any NFL team. Davis was a huge favorite when the team visited Mexico City in November 2019 for a Monday Night game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Estadio Azteca, a stadium Davis used to visit on trips with his mother. Davis dreamed of playing soccer in Estadio Azteca and says that playing there it was a dream come true.

He was raised in Glendale, California, by his mom and excelled (when he wanted to) in track and football at Glendale High School. Davis admits to not always being as motivated as he could have been, but his talent was evident. He was first team all-CIF in track and field in his senior year, won the Pacific League title in the 100-meter sprint three straight years and the 200 meter sprint four straight years.

His football career was far different -- Glendale won just six games in three years and recruitment was limited ... except for BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who appreciated Davis' speed and helped recruit him to Provo, Utah. Davis struggled at times with BYU -- temporarily losing his starting position as a senior to a time to a freshman -- but came off the bench to make an interception and 40-yard return against Michigan State that year, helping the Cougars to a 31-14 victory.

Davis' measurables -- he stands 6-foot-2 and runs a 4.4 in the 40 -- caught the eyes of the Chargers, who signed him after he went undrafted in 2017. Not being drafted created a chip on his shoulder that former Chargers DB coach Ron Milus noticed and honed. That's when Davis says that he started to realize what was possible on the football field.

"I think Ron Milus molded me into a corner," Davis said. "On top of that, I had to work on mentality. It's all about the mental game in the NFL, just those two things."

Davis' talent was showcased this past season after getting a pick-six off Tom Brady, taking the interception 78 yards for a touchdown. That's when things started to click, Davis said. He had a great follow-up performance against the Saints on Monday Night Football a week later.

"I started performing at my highest, at my best," Davis said. "Since then I was like, 'You know what? I actually have a chance to get an extra contract and hopefully stay with the Chargers.'"

Davis started 14 or 16 games for the Chargers in 2020 and had 62 tackles along with and three interceptions for 86 yards (the 78-yarder vs. Brady certainly helped in that department).

And that is a good thing for new head coach Brandon Staley, a former defensive coordinator who relies heavily on the secondary and likes to mix things around. And what Staley has in Davis is a wily veteran able (and more than willing) to pass on knowledge to younger players.

Staley told Davis he wanted to maximize his potential further, something that Davis likes to hear.

"They want me to take it to the next level with my game," he said. "I'm excited for that. I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited."

Davis is a father, as his son, Atticus, is still young enough to see his father in his prime, or what should be his prime.

Oh, and one more accolade: Davis spent four years as a tenor on his high school a capella singing team. So if you need a really speedy player with great hands and a high voice -- not to mention a nice salary for the next three years -- Davis is your guy.