Jeff Davis will forever be remembered at Clemson as the Tigers’ All-American linebacker from the 1981 National Championship Team.
Nicknamed “The Judge,” Davis became one of Clemson’s greatest players in his four years in Tigertown. In 1981, his senior year, he recorded a then team-record 175 tackles and became just the third defensive player in the history of the ACC to be named ACC Player of the Year. In the Orange Bowl, when Clemson clinched its only National Championship with a win over Nebraska, he registered a game-high 14 tackles and recovered a fumble on his way to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The Associated Press’ First-Team All-America selection spent six seasons in the NFL playing for Tampa Bay before retiring after the 1987 season. He was the Buccaneers’ team captain the last four years he was on the team.
And though all of these accomplishments on the football field are great, they do not define who Jeff Davis truly is. To the 100 or so players that put on the Orange and White and run down Clemson’s famous hill on Saturday afternoons in the fall, Jeff Davis is a whole lot more.
“What we do better in the country than anybody else, but we don’t market as well, is that we have a secret weapon called Jeff Davis,” said Thad Turnipseed, Clemson’s director of recruiting and external affairs.
Davis is entering his 16th year working for Clemson University and will enter his eighth season with the football program as its director of player relations. Davis spends at least eight hours a day with the players talking about life skills and personal growth.
In a way, he serves as a mentor, but not because of what he did on the football field, but how he handles himself in everyday life, once the 80,000 fans stopped cheering for him.
“Other schools have a program like this … Alabama has the First-and-10 Program, Michigan has the Impact Program and Tennessee has the Vols for Life,” Turnipseed said. “Those schools market it well, but I think we do it better than anybody, but we have never branded the Jeff Davis’ life skills.”
That is until now.
When Clemson’s new $55 million football complex is complete in January, it will have everything in it a player can possibly need … a state of the art weight room, a nutrition and dinning program like no other, a training and recovery facility that will be second to none and all of the amenities, entertainment and games a college student can imagine.
However, the best thing the facility will have is an area called “Paw Journey,” where players will learn and develop the skills they need once the cheering goes away and their football careers are over.
“If we do the Paw Journey right with Jeff Davis, and give him the support that Dan (Radakovich) has given him, the Paw Journey portion of this building is a powerful growth factor for this program because it is the right thing to do,” Turnipseed said. “We have always done it, but we didn’t have a place to showcase it.”
Paw Journey is the central hub of head coach Dabo Swinney’s theme for his football program, “Serving the Heart and not the Talent.”
“Some people may be able to build a building, but until you get a Dabo Swinney that believes in that philosophy, the building will never function the way we function here,” Turnipseed said.
“Frown and you frown alone. Smile and the world will smile with you.”
When you see Jeff Davis, he always greets you with a big smile. It’s who he is. It’s how he lives his life. Davis is one of the more confident and positive people you will ever meet, and there is a reason for that.
In 1978, as a freshman linebacker, Davis got rave reviews in fall camp. He was everything head Coach Charlie Pell thought he would be when he recruited him out of Greensboro, North Carolina. The 223-pound linebacker was making plays all over the place. He was recording tackles for loss, forcing fumbles and had an occasional interception or two. Davis was everywhere. When the season finally kicked off, he found himself on the field alongside the likes of Clemson greats Randy Scott and Bubba Brown.
But all of that early success came to a crashing halt when Davis suffered a severe ankle sprain just a few games into the season.
“You did not miss a practice during the Charlie Pell or Danny Ford era,” Davis said. “That was simply a no, no. If you had to drag yourself out there, you dragged yourself out there. That was the type of atmosphere and environment we were in.
“I can remember Coach Ford saying, ‘I don’t know about that Jeff Davis kid. He is on the table and is in the training room all the time.”
Up to that point, Davis had never suffered an injury of any kind. He never missed a game in high school or a practice. This was new territory for the future All-American, and it was killing him to think that his coaches thought he was soft.
“I was all down in the dumps and everything. I was feeling sorry for myself, when, in walks Herman (McGee),” Davis recalled.
McGee was a long-time trainer at Clemson that worked in the athletic department for 46 years, the longest tenured employee in Clemson history.
“Herman had a saying. ‘Frown and you frown alone. Smile and the world will smile with you.’ He said that thing every day and on that day he hit me with it,” Davis said. “He saw me and he said, ‘Quit frowning. Frown and you frown alone. Smile and the world will smile with you.’
“Man, I started laughing and I started thinking, ‘Look Herman, my ankle hurts. I can’t play and I’m upset about it.’”
What happened after that, Davis says he will never forget. McGee reminded him of all the talking that was going on just days before, and how it seemed like the public address announcer was calling out, “Davis with the tackle” after every play.
“He told me to get my treatment and get well,” Davis said. “Then he said, ‘I assure you, that same guy that was hitting people a week ago, he will be hitting them two or three weeks later. The key is to keep a positive attitude and stay up beat.’
“He was right. There was nothing to frown about because if you do that, then you will be by yourself.”
Davis has not been alone since. Like McGee, Davis is always smiling and he tries to emulate the teachings McGee taught him and so many others in his 46 years of working in the Clemson Athletic Department.
“There was no individual like Herman McGee,” Davis said. “He was a light. You were like a paper clip and he was a magnet. He had love. From the moment you set eyes on him, you knew he loved what he did. He loved people, and he loved people enough to tell them the truth.”
These days, like McGee, Davis is giving back as he tries to teach and develop players for what life has in store for them once they leave Clemson and once their football careers come to an end.
In Paw Journey, which will be located in the front of the new complex, it will concentrate on helping the student athletes become a better person in all areas of life and in career development. Reggie Pleasant, the program’s Life Coach, will run a program called CU in Life. Swinney plans to bring in someone else who will be focus on player development and the jobs program. This program will be called The Fifth Quarter. Then there is Davis’ life skills and personal growth program – Paw Journey.
Paw Journey will be the focal point in all of this. Its halls will be lined up with pictures of former Clemson players that have gone onto succeed in life, and it has nothing to do with what they accomplished on the football field.
“What are we doing is trying to make our student athletes better people in all areas once they leave,” Turnipseed said. “Jeff Davis probably spends at least eight hours a day, one-on-one with players in his office. We really wanted to make that a focal point and give it the infrastructure for the nicest program in the country.”
— top photo USA TODAY Sports
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