Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis told the Rock Hill peewee all-stars that he had something special planned for them if they won the state championship.
The all-stars shut out four of their five opponents in the state playoffs, including a 14-0 win in the final over Florence, to win the 10-and under youth football state title back in December.
Davis admitted Tuesday night during the team’s championship gathering that the celebratory plans weren’t finalized yet, though he promised he would follow through. And he had already bought the team’s championship rings, which he helped pass out. Davis’ twin nephews, Andrew and Aiden Harris, were integral parts of the team’s success.
Each player received a dog tag, purchased by the city’s Tourism, Parks and Recreation department in honor of the team’s Upper State championship, as well as multiple t-shirts and a state championship ring.
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They scarfed down pizza and cookies and soda and laughed with each other. When middle school or high school teams’ seasons end, the coaches and players still see each other school every day. But this group hadn’t been together since its state championship win.
Having Davis there was a neat touch, even if almost every kid was too shy to look him in the eye before he draped the dog tags over their head and around their neck.
The 35-year old Davis was drafted in 2005 and played in 176 games with the Panthers, before news got out after the 2018 season that he wouldn’t be back. Davis had 28 quarterback sacks, forced 18 fumbles, intercepted 13 passes, recovered 11 fumbles and scored one touchdown. And he made NFL history by overcoming three separate ACL tears on the same knee. And the former NFL Man of the Year expects to add to those numbers in 2019, even if it’s not with the Panthers.
“I’m not retiring,” Davis announced in a video he posted on social media in January. “I feel like I have way too much football left in me to walk away from the game right now. … Panther nation, just know that in no way did I ever imagine putting on another uniform — still to this day don’t want to do it. But I want to play football. So if that’s the way I’m going to be able to continue my career, then it’s something that I have to do.”
But none of that was on Davis’ mind Tuesday night at Manchester Meadows.
“Really, this moment is not about hearing me talk,” he said. “This moment is about you guys. And what you guys did, it was special and you should be celebrated for it.”
Former Northwestern High School coach Jimmy Wallace had spoken to the group earlier about the importance of academics, and Davis underscored that. He left the University of Georgia before graduating and hadn’t worried much about completing his degree until he tore his ACL for the first time in 2009.
“If you didn’t take a whole lot from Coach speaking, the most important thing that you kids can be doing right now is taking advantage of your education,” said Davis. “I look at the Rock Hill community and see how many guys are in our league from this area and it’s a special thing. That should be true motivation for you. You should know and believe that anything is possible.
“But at the end of the day, the reality of the situation is there are so many kids that have aspirations of being NFL players that never get to live out their dream. But there are so many other things you can do in life as long as you have your education. The sky is truly the limit.”