Phil Ratliff would be proud to see how far Nate Davis has come.
The former Charlotte 49ers offensive line coach would be proud to see Davis morph from undersized redshirt to three-year starter, his all-conference selections and his Senior Bowl performance.
Unfortunately, Ratliff never got the chance.
Ratliff died in August 2015, at age 44, just days after a cardiac event sent him to the hospital and roughly one month before the 49ers’ season opener. Davis experienced loss before, losing his grandfather when he was in middle school — but Ratliff’s death hit him hard. He wasn’t just a coach — more like an extension of Davis family.
And the reason Davis signed with Charlotte in the first place.
“He was really just like my second father. He was there for me,” Davis said. “I could ask him anything and he would give me an answer and try to guide me through the situation.
“He was the reason why I came to Charlotte. I met him for the first time and it just felt right — it felt like a real, genuine person trying to make sure I’m good on and off the field.
“That’s what really sold me. It was really a blessing for me to meet him.”
Charlotte played the 2015 season — its first as an FBS program — with Ratliff in mind. Its record was about as expected, although it didn’t reflect the team’s chemistry off the field.
Davis didn’t expect, however, to hear just how many of his teammates saw Ratliff in the same light he did. Like many people do when they find out they share similar interests, the 49ers bonded over that common relationship.
“It was very odd to hear that so many people were so close to just one guy, like he was able to touch so many people,” Davis said. “We all had heavy hearts for him and we all felt the same way. We just kind of bonded over that and became closer, had each other’s backs and really pushed each other throughout the season.
“Like, yeah this sucks but we still have to go out there and compete and we’ve still got to go out there and play for each other.”
Davis started 10 games that season, slowly establishing himself as Charlotte’s anchor on the right side of the offensive line over the next three years — which made his experience at the Senior Bowl this past week worth keeping an eye on.
For the Oakland Raiders coaching staff, Davis primarily played left guard throughout the week. An adjustment like that seems simple on paper, but the mental aspect of switching sides is tricky.
“In one position, they look like a natural. In another, it looks like something brand new to them,” Raiders assistant offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre said. “Being able to be flexible is really important and then being able to flip your brain. Imagine doing something for 10,000 reps going one way and then just flipping it.”
Despite the change in positions and opposing talent, Davis flourished, saying scouts were surprised by the way he could keep his strength against top-tier talent and anchor himself against power rushers.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Davis said. “I just had to think more about my fundamentals and techniques going from the right side to the left side. I think I was able to showcase that I can flip-flop both sides without being a problem.”
“I think Nate can play. I think he can really play at this level,” he said. “He’s really strong and right now ... he tries hard, you could see his improvement from Day 1 to Day 3.
“You can see, even his one-on-one pass rush — he’s strong. Then when you get to team (drills), he’s over there moving people. So I think he’ll do great.”
Next up for Davis is the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 26 to March 3, where he’ll hope to further solidify himself as a draft pick.
He said he met with the Carolina Panthers during Senior Bowl week, among many other NFL teams.
Where he goes is out of his control, though. Coach Ratliff would probably tell him to ignore the outside noise and keep doing what got him to this point. Ratliff was always good for unflappable advice.
“He just had a big heart. You just knew that everything he was doing was genuine, he wanted the best for you,” Davis said. “He’d be straight with me and tell what I can or what I should do, and I really did appreciate that.”