CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — There were days when running back Mike Davis wanted to quit the NFL, frustrated over his role as a practice squad player with the Seattle Seahawks.
But the memory of his brother’s brief NFL career, as well as a motivational speaker, helped change that.
Now, two years later, the 27-year-old Davis is set to take over as the Carolina Panthers starting running back on Sunday against the Chargers replacing All-Pro Christian McCaffrey, who was moved to short-term injured reserve Wednesday and will miss at least three games because of a high ankle sprain.
“What stands out most is I never gave up,” Davis said of his journeyman career in the NFL which has seen him play for four teams. “It could have been so easy for me to give in when I was in Seattle being on a practice squad. It was real depressing and there were times where I was like, ’I don’t want to do this no more.’”
His older brother, James Davis, made that mistake and it cost him.
James Davis was a star at Clemson who went on to play for the then-Washington Redskins. But in 2011 he became disgruntled with his lack of reps and left the team, later asking for his release. He wound up on a few other NFL practice squads, but never played another down in the league and finished his career with just 75 yards rushing on 28 carries.
“My brother, he was very talented — and he should have had more years than he did,” Mike Davis said.
Davis said he learned many lessons from his older brother including how to stay in shape and save his money.
He also drew motivation during those internal struggles while on the Seahawks practice squad when he stumbled across a video of motivational speaker Eric Thomas’ “You Owe You” speech. He watched it every morning when he woke up at 6 o’clock.
“Every day I took going against the (starters) in practice like it was a game for me, and it was a challenge,” Davis said. “I treated every day like it could be my last.”
Eventually, he got his shot.
As Seattle’s backfield became depleted with injuries later that season in 2018, Davis was signed to the 53-man roster and stepped in and ran for 514 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry that season. He also caught 34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown.
He parlayed that into a two-year, $6 million free-agent contract with the Bears the following season, but only carried 11 times before being released by Chicago.
The Panthers claimed him off waivers last year and now Davis is looking to make the most out of his latest opportunity after a strong training camp.
It was there that he grabbed the attention of running backs coach Jeff Nixon. Nixon championed Davis’ battle, telling head coach Matt Rhule that Davis had what it took to be a starting running back in the NFL. Davis went on to beat out incumbent Reggie Bonnafon for the No. 2 spot behind McCaffrey to start the season.
Still, Davis barely saw the field in Carolina’s 34-30 loss to the Raiders in Week 1 playing behind McCaffrey.
“It’s hard to take Christian off the field because he’s such a good player,” Rhule admitted.
But the Panthers vowed to get Davis more work in Week 2 and he finished with eight catches for 74 yards after McCaffrey went down.
Davis should get the bulk of carries on Sunday, although Bonnafon will see action too.
“He runs with speed and power,” Rhule said.
Davis’ road is quite different than the man he replaces in the starting lineup Sunday. McCaffrey came into the league as a first-round draft pick and wasted no time showing he was an elite player in this league. Davis was a fourth-round pick by the 49ers in 2015 out of South Carolina and has struggled to find a permanent home.
Davis said his goal heading into Sunday is to “play angry” and not try to do too much.
“I’m not going to try to do anything crazy because that’s when bad plays happen,” Davis said.
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