By Mike Myers Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — By the Internet travel site MapQuest, it’s around 900 miles from Washington to Orlando, Florida. But the path Kelly Davison took from Washington to the world of big time college football travelled a much longer route.
When the University of Central Florida Knights square off against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, Davison will be right there, wearing No. 77 and taking the field as an offensive lineman whenever the Knights attempt an extra point or field goal. But the black and gold UCF uniform isn’t the most important one Davison has worn since he graduated from Washington High School in 2004.
Before landing at UCF, Davison spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a military policeman, including two tours of duty in Iraq providing security for convoys and a tour serving in Japan. Davison, a three-sport standout in football, wrestling, and track and field for the Hatchets, explained his decision to enter the Marine Corps.
“It’s just kind of one of those things that hit me, I wanted to do something for my country. I signed up,” Davison said on a recent holiday visit to Washington.
After serving his country, Davison returned to Indiana and started college, spending a year at Vincennes University, where he made the track team. That was followed by a year at Valencia Community College in Orlando, where Davison lived with some friends from his Marine Corps days and earned an associate’s degree. He remained in Orlando and transferred to UCF, but taking classes toward a degree wasn’t the only thing on Davison’s mind. Though he was by this time in 2012 eight years removed from playing football, Davison wanted to play college football. And a chance encounter with Knights head coach George O’Leary helped get him started.
“I had been (to the football offices) two or three times, and had even gotten a video of a game we played in high school, I don’t remember how I got but I got it. I went in two or three times and tried to talk to somebody and nobody was available, it was kind of a busy time,” said Davison. “I just happened to be driving by one day and decided to stop in, and coach O’Leary happened to be sitting there. He asked if I had been in there before and I said ‘Yeah.’ He started asking me a bunch of questions and the next thing I knew they were cartin’ me off to get a physical and told me to come back the next week when practice started.”
Davison made the Knights as a walk on last season, then earned a scholarship and a starting position on the field goal/PAT unit this season, a campaign that has been truly magical for the Knight.
After winning 10 games last and making an appearance in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Knights have been even better this season, the best in school history. UCF, the American Athletic Conference champion, will take an 11-1 record and a No. 15 BCS ranking into the Fiesta Bowl to face No. 6 Baylor. Along the way, the Knights have won at Penn State and at Louisville when the Cardinals were ranked in the top-10 nationally. In addition to his special teams starting spot, Davison is a backup at right tackle so he gets plenty of work in practice, and he says the pace of the college game is much different than in high school.
“It’s been amazing. Last year, my first year, we won 10 games and went to the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl,” said Davison. “This year we won 11 games and are going to one of the top four bowls, the Fiesta Bowl. It’s been an amazing journey.”
“I’m on the extra point/field goal team, we have a great offensive line, it’s one of the best in the country. I’m completely happy being a backup to one of them,” said Davison. “I have a starting spot on the extra point/field goal team, it gives me a chance to get on the field every time we score a touchdown or need a field goal. I do enjoy my role as a backup and do what ever I can.
“We average about 120 plays a practice, we go fast. It’s a lot different than high school,” added Davison.
At 6-5 and 300 lbs., Davison is about average size for a Knights offensive lineman. But what isn’t average is his age – 28 – making him roughly four years older than the average college senior. So, does Davison he feel his age in comparison to his younger teammates.
“Absolutely,” said a laughing Davison. “In the college football world 28 is really, really old. Practice hurts me a lot more than it does the younger guys. After practice, they’re up and ready to go and I’m still hurtin’.”
But in other ways, his advanced age and his experiences between high school and college have helped Davison contribute to the Knights success.
“The military is what made it easier for me, the fact that I’ve been through a lot worse, and I was able to convey that to the other kids,” said Davison, who wears No. 77 for the Knights. “I was like ‘Hey, there’s a lot tougher things to be doing than playing football at the college level.’”
Or, as UCF assistant coach Charlie Taaffe says of Davison in a video released by the school, “It’s just a great story, a great success story. He served in the Marine Corps, in Iraq, he’s seen it, the real deal of what that is about.”
His parents, Mike and Sherri Healy of Washington, have had the opportunity follow their son through his college football travels, including a visit to Ohio Stadium in Columbus to watch the Knights battle Big Ten power Ohio State last season. His mother is impressed with how her son has approached pursuing his goal of playing college football.
“He has accomplished quite a bit, he had a goal, a dream, he worked to make that dream come true. He went through the right steps, worked with a trainer, and worked hard until he accomplished it. That says a lot. You hear so much of the negative about people getting out of the military and having problems,” Sherri said. “He’s done it all on his own because he hasn’t looked to us for help. He went to another state where he had no connections and made it on his own, I think that says a lot.”
The week of Thanksgiving his parents travelled to Orlando to walk out on the field with their son on Senior Day at Bright House Networks Stadium, which was a special experience.
“Went to Orlando for senior night, you don’t realize how big that stadium is until you’re on the field looking up,” said Mike.
Davison will graduate next year with a biology degree and hopes to teach and coach at the high school level. Though it appears as though he has found a new home.
“I’ll probably stay down in Florida, the weather is a little bit nicer.”
The Fiesta Bowl begins at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time on New Year’s Day and will be televised on ESPN.