PEMBROKE — If there has ever been one player that has personified the Carolina Panthers’ mantra ‘Keep Pounding’ outside of Sam Mills, the originator of the phrase, it’s Thomas Davis.
Davis is the only know NFL player to come back and play from three ACL injuries, and he also played in Super Bowl 50 two weeks after breaking his arm in the NFC Championship Game.
The 11th-year, Pro Bowl linebacker spoke alongside Robeson County native and former NFL fullback Vonta Leach at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Entrepreneurship Summit held inside the Givens Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
“I’ve lived that not only with my play but everything I’ve gone through from an injury standpoint throughout my career, and showing everybody the ability to continue to do just what that message says, keep pounding, keep fighting through all of that stuff,” he said. “I think I live and breath that on a daily basis in all that I work on.”
Davis spoke for over 30 minutes to a crowd of over 1,000 people, mostly local high school students, about his career journey and his mindset growing up in the small town of Shellman, Georgia. Davis and his wife Kelly run the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation which provides efforts to benefit the lives of underprivileged kids in Charlotte, Greenville, South Carolina and Shellman to help them succeed there dreams.
The wisdom Davis imparted into the audience was to set and commit to goals in life, giving examples of him growing up with his single mother and working hard to go to college.
In high school, Davis played eight different position on the football field, saying he played wherever his coach needed him to play. Davis went on to play football at the University of Georgia and went from being the last scholarship safety on the roster as a freshman to the top safety on the team and the third defensive back selected in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Panthers with the 14th pick.
In 10 seasons in Carolina, he has been a fixture on the defense, going from splitting time at safety and outside linebacker as a rookie to playing linebacker solely for the last nine seasons. Davis was selected for his first Pro Bowl this season after finishing second on the team in total tackles. For his work off the field, he’s been awarded the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award and the 2016 “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year.
Davis said that throughout his whole career his proudest moment was not anything he accomplished on the field. Instead it was going back to school after playing five seasons in the NFL to finish his degree that he put on hold after declaring early for the NFL Draft.
Saying that he now is playing the best football of his career, Davis sees another possible Super Bowl run in the works next season due to the additions for Carolina in the offseason, plus the way the team has responded since the loss to the Broncos in February.
“I like the moves that we’ve made so far adding Paul Soliai to our team, adding Brandon Boykin, adding (Trenton) Robinson to our safety group,” Davis said. “I’m really looking forward to what we can do in the draft and getting guys back healthy like Kelvin Benjamin’s going to be huge for us. We’re just excited for where we are as a football team, but at the same time we still have to put the work in to re-gel as a football team and get back to where we were as a football team.”
Since playing in his last football game two years ago, Leach has came back to Robeson County and has made an impact on the local economy with his business endeavors. He used the summit as a chance for him to speak to the high school students in the crowd that might be in the same situation he was in growing up in Rowland.
“Just to come out here that I’m a product of my environment and if I can be successful, so can they if they put their mind to it,” Leach said.
“I’m always looking how I can not only bring businesses to Robeson County, but how I can make an impact in the community.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.