CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - When Mike Davis became a Seattle Seahawk in 2017, he’d wake up each morning at 6 a.m., before the sun came up, and watch the same YouTube video over and over.
The eight-minute video, “You Owe,” by motivational speaker Eric Thomas, stresses the importance of going after what you want in life, and not waiting for good things to happen to you. It has been viewed on YouTube 8.6 million times.
Davis, a former fourth-round draft pick and standout at South Carolina, wanted to get on the field. He wanted to show what he could do.
But he had been relegated to the Seahawks' practice squad, tasked with getting the first-team defense ready for their upcoming games.
Davis said he was depressed, and had considered giving up, wondering if he’d ever get his chance.
“Winners win,” Thomas says in the video. “I can’t explain it to you, but you better stop making excuses and find a way to win.”
That video was exactly what Davis needed to hear. It became ingrained into his mindset. He used it as fuel each day, and every time he stepped onto the practice field, he made sure the defensive starters felt his power.
“It was a game for me every day, and I took it as a challenge,” Davis said of going up against the starters. “I would say that really helped me out a lot, going through those things and treating every day like it could be my last.”
Three years later, Davis will start for the Panthers. Running back Christian McCaffrey suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s game, and is out for at least three weeks.
And Davis, who impressed his coaches throughout training camp, is next in line. This will be the 11th start of Davis' six-year career. He’s not looking to be McCaffrey, the All-Pro running back. He’s looking to do his job and help his team win.
‘WHO IS THAT KID?’
— “You owe you an explanation. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and say why are you only giving 50%, what’s wrong with you? You need to put yourself on punishment.”- Eric Thomas
Growing up on the west side of Atlanta, Davis was a natural at football. One of six children, he started playing when he was 10 years old, following in the footsteps of his oldest brother James, who is seven years his elder.
James said he noticed his younger brother’s talent immediately. Mike’s coaches put him on the offensive line because it was his first time playing.
But during the playoffs, Mike’s youth football team was down by three scores at halftime. Mike’s team was the last seed. James walked over to the coach and suggested they put him at running back. So they did, and Mike didn’t disappoint.
On the first play of the second half, Mike ran for a touchdown. He scored three more, and his team won the game. They eventually won the championship with Mike at running back.
“(The opposing team) was trying to figure out, ‘who is that kid,’” James Davis recalled. “Well, he was the best player on the team.”
James Davis was a good player in his own right. He starred at Clemson and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft. When he signed his first contract, he moved his mother and his younger siblings, including Mike Davis, to Stone Mountain, a suburb of Atlanta.
But his pro career didn’t last long. In three years, he played on four different teams. He made some mistakes, but made up for them by helping guide his younger brother.
“I think it’s really important to have him in my life especially with him being in the NFL and with his experience and everything he’s been through,” Mike Davis said. “A lot of people don’t even know that James Davis is my brother.”
James Davis said he, too, was on practice squads. Except he didn’t handle it well. James Davis, who played for Washington’s Football Team in 2011, left the team because of a lack of playing time. While he was later signed to the practice squads in Houston and Detroit, he never made another 53-man roster.
Mike Davis said he learned what to do, and what not to do when watching his older brother.
“Seeing the way he trained, basically not taking anything for granted,” Mike Davis said. “Because my brother was very, very talented. He should have had more years than he had. A couple of bad decisions could lead to a short ending in the NFL.”
‘YOUR TIME IS COMING’
— “I’m still going to be successful. I’m still going to get to where they are. Why? Because I owe it to myself.” -Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas, also known as ET The Hip Hop Preacher, grew up in Chicago to a teenage mother. His biological father was not in his life. He dropped out of high school and was homeless for two years while living in Detroit. He eventually went back to school, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, and decided make a difference. He became a minister and motivational speaker to help others. He’s a favorite among professional athletes.
Davis said he happened to see the Eric Thomas video by chance. But he was captivated by it and inspired to make the most of his situation.
“Control what you can control,” Davis said of what he took from it.
Davis began his career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015. He played there for two seasons as a backup, before he was cut in 2017. The Seahawks claimed him off waivers in May 2017 and placed Davis on the practice squad that September.
James Davis said his younger brother would text him about how well he was performing in practice in Seattle. And he was frustrated that he wasn’t getting a chance.
His older brother told him to be patient.
“Your time is coming,” he’d text Mike.
James Davis was right. The Seahawks activated Mike Davis off the practice squad later that season. He started in six games in 2017, and was re-signed the following year. His best year was in 2018, though. He played in 15 games that year, started in two, and had a 100-yard rushing game.
James Davis remembers the game. When asked about Mike Davis' 100-yard game, he immediately says, “Against the Arizona Cardinals.”
That game, Davis had 101 yards rushing on 22 carries, and two touchdowns. He also had four catches for 21 yards, and helped the Seahawks defeat the Cardinals 20-17. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, which ultimately decided the game.
“I think Mike Davis is one of the most versatile running backs I’ve ever played with because of his ability to not only make people miss and be physical in the run game,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson told the Observer, "and his ability to pass protect, as well, is exceptional. But I also think his ability to catch the football in the passing game.
“This guy knows how to make people miss and make people look silly out there. We’ve had some amazing moments together.”
— “I said I’m going to grind. I’m going to fight. I’m going to work. I’m going to press toward. I’m going to learn. I’m going to do everything in my power, every single day, I’m going to do everything in my power to be a victor and not a victim.” - ET
The Panthers initially claimed Davis off waivers last November after the Chicago Bears released him. He was seldom used in Chicago, but Davis' addition provided depth to a Panthers running back room, which consisted of mostly Christian McCaffrey, who played in 93% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2019.
This past offseason, after Matt Rhule and his staff were hired, they evaluated each player on the Panthers' roster ahead of free agency and the draft.
When they got to Mike Davis, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, who had some familiarity with Davis in San Francisco, advocated for him.
He had watched two years of film on Davis and noticed his power and speed. He saw his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and his blocking and came away impressed.
“Nixon stood on the table for him,” Rhule said. “From Day 1, Jeff said to me, I think he’s a great compliment to Christian, if anything ever happens, he’s a starting running back. He can play at that level.”
Nixon told the Observer, “Every single time Mike played, he performed. He gave the team a spark and I really thought he was a talented guy.”
Nixon’s endorsement won over Rhule. And in training camp, Davis showed the coaching staff why Nixon liked him so much. Rhule said Davis had one of the best camps of any player. He won the backup role behind McCaffrey over incumbent Reggie Bonnafon.
“One of my earliest reflections of him, we were running a four-minute drill, the period was supposed to be thud, and he was coming across, running people over, left and right,” Panthers left tackle Russell Okung said with a laugh. “That’s just a testament to the amount of will and determination that he has as a player.”
Now with McCaffrey out for a few weeks, and Davis getting the majority of the touches, he’ll get a chance to show that.
Davis played well last week. He had eight catches for 74 yards out of the backfield, and blocked well. But in order for the Panthers to have a chance against the Chargers, he’ll have to run it well, also.
Davis said he won’t try to do more than what he’s asked. He said he’s going to be himself.
He later explained what that meant.
“Just play angry,” he said.