It’s not that Gavin Davis takes football for granted. He’s been hurt before, suffered stingers and the like.
He’s always known the inherent risks of playing the game. Still, it sometimes takes a direct confrontation with those dangers to develop a true appreciation.
For Davis, that moment came on Sept. 23, 2022, on his home field at Shady Spring. He was running in to make a tackle, as he had done so many times before, when his life took what ended up being a miraculously brief detour.
The final two minutes were winding down on the Tigers’ game against PikeView. Shady was comfortably ahead by three touchdowns, but PikeView was moving the ball, trying to finish on a high note.
Peyton Mounts caught a pass and took it into the red zone, where he was met by Davis from behind with Adam Richmond charging in ahead.
“(Mounts) catches the ball and he’s running to the outside. When he does, he tries to slow down,” Davis said. “I stop and I end up grabbing him from the back. When I do, you can tell he sees Adam coming at him so he’s trying to go down. When he does, I’m going down with him and Adam’s shoulder hits my head. When it does, you can see in the video it kind of jars it and literally just turns my body off and I just fall down.”
Video of the play provides most of what Davis is able to go on, because he has little recollection of the moment.
“I remember grabbing the kid, and after I grabbed the kid I just remember falling down,” Davis said, “and then that’s it.”
But it wasn’t just that Davis was knocked unconscious. With the clock reading a mere 59 seconds, the hit also left Davis paralyzed, setting into motion tense moments for everyone who was there — especially his mom and dad.
“The whole time I’m going down to the field, I’m just praying to God and asking Him to help him be OK,” mom Jennifer said. “Just help everything be OK. And then just seeing him there, obviously that was scary. Then when our family was coming down and they were all crying. I’m having to console them and be the strong one, letting his buddies know he’s OK. That’s just what I kept telling myself. ‘He’s fine. He’s OK. God will take care of him.’”
“I remember when it first happened that everybody in the stands kind of took a gasp, and then it got quiet,” dad Chris said. “I remember thinking he’s knocked unconscious because of the way his body laid.
“I remember the stillness of how quiet it was. It was Coach Phil (Culicerto) who looked at me, and I believe he said, “Get out here.’ So I went out there and by the time I get there to him, the paramedic is trying to communicate with him.”
It was only then that Chris knew exactly how serious the situation was.
“I remember coming to and I was laying there and the paramedic was grabbing my hand, and he said, ‘Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Squeeze my hand. Squeeze my hand,’” Gavin said. “I was just very confused (about) what was happening. He was like, ‘Squeeze my hand. Come on, squeeze it!’”
Gavin was not responding, no matter how much he thought he was.
“I just kept hearing him say that and I told him — because I was laying and I couldn’t look down — I was like, ‘I’m squeezing as hard as I can,’” he said. “And I just remember the paramedic saying, ‘No, we have to get him off this field.’”
Gavin was eventually stabilized and placed in an ambulance to be transported to Raleigh General Hospital. Jennifer rode in the ambulance; Chris followed right behind them.
The ambulance actually had to pull over as consideration was given to flying Gavin to either Morgantown or Charleston. He was given a specialized IV and continued to Raleigh General, where his pads and helmet were carefully removed and multiple scans were performed, which confirmed a concussion.
But soon — very soon, considering the circumstances — the miracle happened. Gavin had suffered no injury to his spine, and things were only getting better.
“At that point in time, he’s starting to get feeling back in his extremities,” Chris said. “Within three or four hours, they’re going to let him stand.
“He grabs my arm, stands up and I say, ‘Praise God.’”
l l l
Relying on God for strength and giving Him praise is nothing new for the Davis family. Neither, unfortunately, is battling adversity.
They have plenty of experience with both.
Gavin was diagnosed with diabetes when he was only 7 years old. Immediately, frequent daily finger sticks to monitor his blood glucose level became a regular part of life.
By the time he became interested in sports — a journey that has included youth basketball, football at the middle and high school levels and baseball — just getting ready for a game has been a challenge that has nothing to do with practice and weight room sessions.
Prep can start well over 24 hours prior to game time, and it’s all monitored by his mom.
“Mom’s texting the trainer and saying, ‘OK, he needs a Gatorade,’” Jennifer said with a smile.
“He will drink several Pedialytes in order to try to stack up those electrolytes and calcium and sodium,” Chris said. “And last year his endocrinologist also ordered that he take a bag of IV fluids before every game. That sometimes is difficult to get administered and get that done.”
That order came after Gavin twice was hospitalized when he went into full body cramps and stopped breathing, once after practice and once after a game. That one occurred on the team bus and he had to be carried out by his dad.
“All the muscles seized, from toe to neck,” Chris said.
During games, Chris and Jennifer get regular readings of Gavin’s sugar levels from his continuous glucose monitor that is located in his thigh. He also wears an insulin pump that is protected by a band and a padded arm sleeve.
If his levels are too high, he has to be rehydrated, but with no carbs — usually with a Powerade Zero. If they are too low, he still has to be hydrated but with enough carbs to where he is medically safe enough to compete. That’s where the Gatorade comes in.
Gavin’s glucose level even played a part as he lay motionless on the field that night, not responding to the paramedic’s pleas to squeeze his hand.
“I was afraid he was panicking as well, so the first thing I was trying to get was a blood sugar (reading), because that also determines how he is communicating with us,” Chris said. “If his blood sugar is too high, sometimes his rationale is not there, and if it’s too low his rationale’s not there.”
There is nothing easy about what Gavin goes through, but he keeps it in stride. He even adds a bit of levity to it.
“I get IVs a couple hours before the game. Sometimes, the IV, I have to take it with me on the bus to road games,” he said. “I’ll be sitting on the bus with the pole with my IV hanging off of it and I’ll get off the bus. Normally I go last because I don’t want to bang it or anything. So all these players get off the bus and they have their shoulder pads, and I get off the bus with my little IV.
“I’ve had a couple friends from other schools that are like, ‘Who’s the hospital patient getting off the bus?’ and a bunch of stuff like that.”
“‘This should be an easy game,’” Jennifer quips.
l l l
There are certainly difficulties, like the tingly feeling he gets in his legs when his sugar runs too low.
And, ironically, he confesses to being “very terrified of needles” despite the multiple times he has had to face them.
“It’s definitely gotten easier over the years, just adapting to it and getting used to it,” he said.
Through his strong faith in God and a lot of hard work, Gavin overcomes it all. Amazingly, he only missed one game after the hit. Of course, he was placed in concussion protocol. And conditioning was modified and his practice work was monitored by team trainer Faye Gray.
“She would be like, ‘You sure about this? No headache? You can see? Everything’s good?’” Gavin said. “And I was like, ‘Yep.’ She was like, ‘All right, I guess I’ve got to turn you loose now.’ I was very happy that day, to go back and practice with them.”
He returned against Man on Oct. 7, although some people may have missed it.
“I had to actually wear a different jersey, because they had to cut my jersey off (after the injury),” he said. “So I wore No. 85 instead of 45.”
The rest of the season went well, and he was a member of the basketball team that played in the Class AA state title game for the third straight year.
With his senior year about to start, Gavin stands to play an even bigger role in the Tigers’ plans. Head coach Vince Culicerto said Gavin will start at running back, he and quarterback Brady Green providing a formidable duo.
“He played a lot of receiver last year, ran the ball towards the end of the year a little more. We’ve run him a bunch over the last couple of years, but (he will) run more this year,” Culicerto said. “And boy he can catch the ball when we slip him out and do that kind of stuff.”
No matter his role, he considers every moment on the field a blessing. He was touched and encouraged that both teams came together to pray for him after he was hurt.
And he now truly understands why teams are required to watch a film on concussions before the season.
“Nothing’s really changed. I still love playing. I wouldn’t say (I’m) more cautious, but definitely a thought in the back of my mind since it happened,” Gavin said. “Throughout my years of playing, they talk about concussions and getting knocked out, and you don’t really think about it. You just play football. … It is something I look back and reflect on, but it’s part of the game so I’ve kind of accepted it, moved on and played ball.
“Concussions are no joke. I do take them more seriously since that day.”
Chris looks at a photo of Gavin with his neck in a brace, then another of him walking at the hospital that same night.
“You don’t go from that to that without God,” Chris said. “It’s impossible.”