That drive to Blacksburg still sits inside the mind of former Virginia Tech football player Jim Davis. The scenic view of coming over the mountains and seeing Lane Stadium off in the distance is a sight to behold for anyone who’s made memories in the land of orange and maroon.
It’s the place where Davis filled his personal memory bank. The place he still dreams about today, where Davis finished his four-year career from 2000-2004 with 131 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, and 18 ½ sacks. The place where unplanned circumstances unleashed moments that will last a lifetime.
“It’s a reflection of life,” Davis said. “When you’re young, you’re just like ‘Why me?’ But then when you look back you’re like ‘Thank you God.’”
Becoming a Hokie
When Davis first set foot on campus, the excitement surrounding the football program was at an all-time high. The Hokies had just come off an 11-1 campaign in 1999 that only ended with a loss to Florida State in the National Championship Game.
Michael Vick was returning to power the offense alongside another stout Bud Foster-led defense. As a true freshman, Davis stepped right into a big role, playing in 11 of 12 games. In the Gator Bowl against Clemson, the Richmond native had his coming out party, compiling two sacks on consecutive plays.
“For me it was huge, because here I am coming to a program and these guys are like rockstars, but they didn’t carry it that way,” Davis said. “You had Ben Taylor, you had Brian Welch, you had Chad Beasley, David Pugh. Old schools guys who were just gritty. Rockstar didn’t exist then. It was still getting that lunch pail mentality and going to work and then making it happen. It was exciting for me because I had never been a part of something so big before.”
Davis progressed forward in his career, starting four games in both 2001 and 2002. Heading into his senior season in 2003, he was supposed to be a breakout player on Charley Wiles’ defensive line. Davis was ready to make it happen, but then the unthinkable occurred.
While out on a trip to San Diego to visit his friend and teammate Brandon Manning’s uncle, the football players decided to test their skills at a nearby golf course.
“I didn’t know too much about golf, I just wanted to hit it as far as I could,” Davis said. “I kept swinging, kept swinging, kept swinging.”
There was an overwhelming soreness the next day, and when Davis arrived back at Virginia Tech, he quickly made an appointment with the training staff just days before practice began. They offered him the unwelcome news.
“I just felt real sore,” Davis said. “They did an MRI and said, ‘Jim, you must have been swinging one helluva club because you tore your pec completely off the bone.’”
The torn pectoral muscle was a crushing blow for Davis considering the expectations he and others had for his senior season. However, since the Highland Springs High School product played immediately as a true freshman, he still had a redshirt year remaining. He used the 2003 season to recoup and recover, vowing to come back and make the most of 2004.
“It was sad, but it was bittersweet,” Davis said. “The following year I had the chance not only to graduate with everyone who I had came in with, but help lead the team to our first ACC Championship that year. God had his hands all over that thing. It lined up perfectly.”
‘Just a Special Season’
2004 marked the first year that Virginia Tech competed in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It provided the opportunity to face some different foes like North Carolina.
In the first ACC meeting between the two sides in Chapel Hill, the game remained close down to the final minutes despite Mike Imoh’s record-setting day with 32 carries for 243 yards.
Leading 27-24, Virginia Tech’s defense needed a stop to prevent any late heroics from Darian Durant and North Carolina. Faced with a third-and-8 from the Hokies’ 26-yard line with under 1:30 remaining, Durant dropped back to pass. Davis maneuvered around the left guard from his defensive tackle position, where he had been moved to begin the season, and sacked Durant from behind, pushing the Tar Heels back to the 37-yard line.
North Carolina’s Connor Barth attempted the 54-yarder, but it fell short, as Davis’ sack proved to be the difference. Imoh picked up a first down to run out the clock and secure the three-point triumph for Virginia Tech.
“I think the thing that stands out most is just my teammates,” Davis said. “After that sack I never forget, my good friend Noland Burchette, who also went to Highland Springs, we did a hug right after that play, and there was a picture that was taken that I still have today. I didn’t know how big it was, until you look back and reflect.”
Three games later the Hokies faced bitter rival Miami at the Orange Bowl with the winner staking its claim as an ACC Champion in its inaugural season in the conference along with a berth to a BCS bowl game.
Davis had never beaten Miami as a player. 2000-2002 all featured tough losses at the hands of uber-talented Hurricanes’ rosters. Tech did prevail the year before in 2003, but Davis was redshirting, so the matchup in 2004 provided an indelible moment.
“They were unbeatable at that place,” Davis said. “Now that was like going into a rock concert, because my freshman year we went up there… they had a special team. They had Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, all these superstars. We got drilled. You look to the sideline and you see Shaquille O’Neal and Puff Daddy on the sideline. All these different things, and I was like ‘Wow, this place is different.’ My last year we weren’t going to lose. I was not going to lose.”
Much like the North Carolina game, Davis and Co. needed a stop on defense late in the game. Trailing 16-10 with 1:14 remaining and needing to go 88 yards for a score, Miami’s Brock Berlin took the field attempting to lead the comeback.
After an 8-yard completion on first down, Davis wreaked havoc by getting into the backfield on back-to-back plays to bat Berlin’s passes down. On fourth-and-2, Darryl Tapp finished the deal by deflecting Berlin’s pass again to end the game and capture the Hokies’ first ACC title.
“It just didn’t settle in until that last drive when you know that you can be the one to put an end to it,” Davis said. “We just had a huddle among the d-line and said ‘Let’s end this thing.’ I batted down those two passes, and then Tapp made it 3-for-3. Even better afterwards was taking that Virginia Tech flag and going to centerfield and waving that thing around in the Miami Hurricanes stadium. Right in the middle, and then we took some grass home to go along with it. It was the perfect ending to a regular season.”
Virginia Tech finished 2004 with a 10-3 record that ended with a loss in the Sugar Bowl to Auburn, but the foundation had once again been set for sustained success.
“It was just a special season,” Davis said. “‘99 was special, but I promise you that season (2004) with myself and Bryan Randall and Eric Green and a bunch of young guys who would later on become very special – Eddie Royal, Darryl Tapp, Jimmy Williams, Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, you can go down the line, Josh Morgan. It was the setting for the next 5-10 years. Just like how the ‘99 team set it up for the next five years, that season set the program up for the next 5-10 years.”
‘It was a Godsend’
How different would Davis’ career have looked if not for the freak pectoral injury from golfing? It’s a question he can continually ask himself and just sit back in amazement at the unpredictable manifestation from that time in his life.
“Just to be able to help mentor a Darryl Tapp, to be able to play with a Jonathan Lewis and a Kevin Lewis and a Noland Buchette,” Davis said. “Literally two Highland Springs guys and two Varina guys on the field all at the same time. You don’t get that anywhere else. Without that injury, you wouldn’t have had special times and special moments like that. To me it was a Godsend. God had bigger and better plans for me.”
Davis oftentimes reminisces on the pure brilliance of the coaching staff he played for, even when it didn’t align with what he initially wanted, like the change from defensive end to defensive tackle. When Foster announced that he was retiring earlier this year, it sparked a response from Davis. Foster wasn’t the typical coach. This is a guy who keeps in contact with his players despite the demands of the business, embracing what it means to be family.
“Some people think it’s just the X’s and O’s, but when you have somebody who truly believes in you – and the proof is in the pudding, [Bud] still keeps in contact – those are the type of people you want to literally run through a wall for, or run over an offensive tackle for,” Davis said. “He really knew how to utilize me, not only as a defensive end, but as a defensive tackle. He did things that some coordinators might not take the chance of doing. He knew what was best for the team. Think about some of the things he did schematically and some of the things he did just as a human being, both meet hand and hand.”
And then there’s the fans inside Lane Stadium. Those that Davis calls “hands down the most rowdiest, the best fans in the world.” The ones who produced the deafening noise and chills that Davis will forever adore.
“To be on the defensive side, there’s no feeling like that,” Davis said. “Those are things that you dream about even at this age. When you feel like, ‘Oh man, I want to get back out there.’ You hear the crowd roaring. You make that sack and there’s a quick silence. Every time you get that sack there’s a brief silence. All of a sudden a roar just feeds into your helmet. I think that’s the thing that stood out to me most, is the fact that Blacksburg is just a special place. Best turkey legs in the world, best fans in the world, and a defense that was just super mean. We were not nice at all.”
‘Everything Played Out Perfectly’
Following his time at Virginia Tech, Davis moved around the NFL and CFL from 2005-2009. Once the former quick twitch defensive lineman realized that his playing days were over, he moved back to Richmond and got involved as a mental health counselor for disadvantaged kids while also making public speaking appearances.
While getting involved in the community neighborhoods, Davis realized that there was a deficit in the financial literacy of the area. He earned his credentials to become a financial advisor, and eventually became the Vice President of the Callahan Group in the city.
Now, Davis has started his own independent firm called Team Two Weeks Notice.
“I teach people how to invest in the forex and cryptocurrency market,” Davis said. “Now I do that full time so people can learn how to invest on their own. It has been very rewarding to see people start with little and grow their accounts and portfolios into a place where they wanted to get.”
The transition from football player to investor has also opened Davis’ schedule in a way he never thought was possible. It’s allowed Davis more time with his family and given him a perspective to value the things in life that really matter.
His father James Sr. and mother Sandra, along with his sister, Tee have been instrumental in his career. Then there’s his wife Sherreka and their three sons Cervier, Azarius, and Brayon. Brayon is just 1-year-old, but Davis calls him the bruiser of the house and the most likely to be a football player. Azarius is the comedian, always looking to entertain, and then there’s Cervier. The eldest son keeps Davis laughing with his ironic choice of a hobby.
“Believe it or not my oldest son (Cervier) is playing golf,” Davis said. “Go figure, right.”
Golf. It’s the sport that prolonged Davis’ time as a Hokie. It allowed unforgettable moments that Davis would have missed. And it’s all led to the time he cherishes now where he gets to do life each and every day with his family.
“Everything played out perfectly,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t take one thing back.”