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From Walk-On To Pro Athlete

Austin Davis was a four-year starting quarterback for Southern Miss, breaking several of Brett Favre’s records before embarking on his own veteran NFL career.

People remember his outstanding debut in front of 32,792 fans at The Rock on Aug. 30, 2008, which was a 51-21 dismantling of UL Lafayette. But what many people did not know is that Davis came to Southern Miss as a baseball player, walked on, and had to earn the trust of recently-hired Larry Fedora, all in a span of a few months that offseason.

“I got the scholarship before the 2008 season when I was getting ready to start,” Davis said. “As a matter of fact it was a situation where I was promised a scholarship by my sophomore year [by then-head coach Jeff Bower], so paying my way for a full year, but when Coach Larry Fedora came in my family was worried about it. My dad drove down and talked to Coach Fedora before I even stepped on the football field.

We told him the situation and why we were concerned, but he honored [my scholarship] before I even threw a pass in a game.

“I did my best to repay that favor for him.”

That previous fall as a redshirt fresh out of Meridian, Davis double-dipped as a member of both the baseball and football teams under two of the most-celebrated legends of Southern Miss: Bower and Corky Palmer. Davis’ brother, Bo, was three years older and an established four-year starter on the team, capping off his career as the Golden Eagles’ leading-hitter on its breakout 2009 College World Series squad.

Austin was an excellent quarterback in high school, becoming West Lauderdale’s winningest quarterback and participating in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game. He did not come from the most-prolific passing offense, but it was little representation of his will and sheer talent that was proven in the spring of 2008.

“It was a process. I do remember the day I was switching over from first team to second team, and I was competing with Martevious Young who had a ton of talent and was a little older than me, a redshirt sophmore. He got first dibs over me and had a real strong arm and a lot of ability. I remember the day they were giving both a fair share of the job and [offensive coordinator] Blake Anderson told me one day I was going to get my shot with the ones, and I just had a big day that day. I don’t ever remember it changing from there. I ran and took it and started that first game against ULL.”

Davis and veteran running back Damion Fletcher were the only things hotter than the 92-degree humidity that August night. Fletcher ran for a career-high 222 yards, and the redshirt-freshman quarterback completed 14 of his 21 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns as well as rushing for 63 yards and another pair of scores.

Fast-forward to Davis’ senior season, and Southern Miss is looking for its 18th consecutive winning season. It began with Danny Hrapmann kicking a late 49-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech 19-17 and a bittersweet loss at Marshall in which Davis broke Favre’s school record for career passing yards.

The Golden Eagles did rally itself to win its next game. And then seven more in a row en route to a 10-2 record.

The stage was set for the C-USA Championship Game, playing undefeated Houston in its home stadium. The Cougars were 12-0 and ranked No. 7 nationally, one win away from a BCS game.

The home team was of little match for Davis, who threw four touchdowns and helped Southern Miss to a 49-28 dismantling in front of a packed Robertson Stadium. Two of his scores were for 60-plus yards, one giving the Golden Eagles the lead for good in the second quarter and the other which blew the game open to 42-21 late in the third.

“That game was everything we worked for,” Davis said. “Every year we were good enough. It’s hard to win championships. We were just never able to put it together. Our defense was great that game and really all season they were dominant.

“That was the highlight of my career, hands down. All the individual accomplishments are great, but winning a championship was by far the best thing we did for Southern Miss.”

That team-first mentality is what makes Davis so highly-regarded amongst Southern Miss fans from a spiritual standpoint. The great thing about him is that any walk-on or star can look at him and say “he’s been in my shoes.” Davis offered advice to all those who are looking to make that crack into the two-deep or starting rotation, despite their initial scholarship status.

“The thing about football is you can’t control everything,” he said. “Some the coaches or team dictates, but you have to focus on how you approach things. I didn’t know it was gonna happen the first semesters of my career. I was fortunate and you have to have some breaks. You can’t do it alone. At the end of the day, you have to be at peace with whatever happens.”

There was one other thing that Davis could not control in life, and it was not such a bad thing. Despite never playing an inning for the Golden Eagles, he got a call from his agent saying he was 31st-round pick by the Boston Red Sox. Davis says he “didn’t really expect it.”

“I had signed with the Rams and was in St. Louis having finished OTAs and looking for my shot at the team,” he said. “One of the local scouts filled me in on the situation and said they liked to pick a guy who may or may not still be in baseball anymore, and with my brother and baseball past they somehow found me and took me in a late round. I definitely would have given it a shot if football hadn’t worked out. It just never really got there.”

Davis last fall wrapped up his fifth season in the NFL and has played for the Rams, Dolphins, Browns and Broncos. The former walk-on was truly Born to Fly as a Golden Eagle.

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