Sept. 3, 2002
By Philip Sikes
Editor’s Note-Clemson had more players chosen to the ACC 50-Year Anniversary Football Team than any other school. Throughout the season we will highlight the career of all nine former Tigers who were named. Today we feature Jeff Davis.
The accomplishments of former Clemson football great Jeff Davis are both illustrious and overwhelming. This past July, Davis added another chapter to an already brilliant career. Davis was one of nine former Clemson players named to the ACC’s 50th anniversary team. Receiving honors is nothing new to Davis, Clemson’s third-leading tackler in history on a career basis. He was a first-team Associated Press All-American and ACC Player-of-the-Year in 1981, the same year he led the Tigers to the National Championship. Winning ACC Player of the Year honors for a defensive player was unusual, even then in an era of superb defensive talent and low scoring games.
Since Davis’s graduation and retirement from the game, the awards and accolades have continued. In 1989, he was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame. He became just the fourth member of Clemson’s Ring of Honor in 1995. One year later, Davis was named to the school’s All-Centennial Team. He was ranked as the second greatest player in Clemson history in 1999 by a panel of historians. Then, in 2001, Davis was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.
The latest achievement for Davis should certainly come as no surprise. Davis accepted it with grace and was humbled to be part of such an elite group of athletes. He attributed his success, accomplishments that have continued to this day, to his experiences at Clemson.
“It is a significant honor,” Davis said. “I felt like I did what I set out to accomplish and even surpassed my own goals. It makes you proud. My coaches and teammates played a major role in me receiving the honor. But it is also special for me to share this award with my mother and grandmother, my wife and children. This honor is more for those individuals who played an instrumental role in me becoming the individual that I became.”
While at Clemson, Davis amassed 469 tackles. He caused 10 fumbles and recovered eight more, both Clemson career records. He was the captain of the 1981 defense that forced a record 41 turnovers during the National Championship run. Over his 40-game career, Davis posted double figures in tackles 30 times. His 24-tackle effort against North Carolina in 1980 is still the second most tackles in a single game in Clemson history, trailing only the 27 Keith Adams recorded in a victory at South Carolina in 1999. Registering 14 tackles and recovering a fumble against Nebraska helped gain him Defensive MVP honors in the 1982 Orange Bowl.
Clemson’s improbable run to that National Championship was the product of a strong running game and the greatest defense in the program’s 106-year history. That intimidating defense was led by Jeff Davis, also known as “The Judge.” His authoritative presence on the field ignited the team that year. The intensity and leadership that he exhibited both on and off the field set the standard by which Clemson linebackers are measured today.
For as much success as Jeff Davis had during his career, football was not an overly large part of his life after his time at Clemson. He went on to play six years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had considerable success, as he led the team in tackles three different times. He continued his leadership at the NFL level as he was named the captain of the team for four seasons.
But Davis left the elaborate life of a professional football player after being released by the team in 1988. He went into auto sales shortly thereafter, but was looking for a challenge that would be more fulfilling. Then, in 1992, he found a higher calling as an ordained minister and created the Covenant Worship Church in his hometown of Greensboro, NC.
Davis returned to Clemson in 1999 to become the director of the Call Me Mister program. The project is essentially an academic support system that provides instructional assistance for young black males who strive to work in a public educational setting. Davis is fulfilling his personal goals through this current venture.
“The program was created to address South Carolina’s scarcity of African-American males in teaching at the elementary level,” Davis explained. “The number is less than one percent. The program identifies high school students who lack the financial wherewithal to attend college and are interested in teaching. We steer them to the colleges and help them with their expenses.”
Davis’s work in the Call Me Mister program has received nationally acclaim. Last year he received a “Use Your Life Award” from Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network, an award he was presented on Winfrey’s television program. He received a $100,000 grant from Winfrey for the program. He has also successfully raised money from former Clemson players for the program. Prior to the 2000 Clemson vs. Missouri game, former Clemson linebacker Levon Kirkland presented Davis with a $200,000 donation at Howard’s Rock.
Perhaps no one understands the needs of these young men better than Davis. He was raised in a single-parent home with only his mother and grandmother left to care for him. Davis can identify with the trials and tribulations these young men are enduring. For those reasons alone, Davis cites the National Championship and All-America honors as second-tier accomplishments. One experience, in particular, stands above the rest in Davis’ mind.
“Earning my degree from Clemson was my greatest accomplishment,” Davis said. “Accolades come and go. Being able to play a game that you love does not last forever. Your education stays with you. The reason I’m part of the Call Me Mister program is because I graduated. That means more to me than any other accomplishment.”
Davis never red-shirted at Clemson, so he returned to Clemson in the offseason while he was playing for the Bucs. He earned his degree in 1984, the same day his wife, Joni, graduated. They are now the proud parents of six children.
Although football was the means by which Davis made his initial impact at Clemson, it was his personality and character that separated him from past great athletes and helped him leave an impact on the Clemson program that is second to none among former Tiger gridders. Davis plans to use that same impact he had in football and touch as many lives as he can through the Call Me Mister program.
“Just being awarded a scholarship to Clemson was something in itself, and winning the National Championship surely enhanced it,” Davis said. “Graduating enhanced it even more, especially now that I can no longer play football. But I can still dream and I can still be productive in other people’s lives, and having that education makes all of that possible.”
Jeff Davis represents everything that makes college football great. Even more importantly, though, he also represents a great role model for the student-athletes that come through his program. Perhaps there is no one better for them to look up to and learn about the vast experiences life has to offer.
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