Terrell Davis was a running back.
He had been since he first strapped on a helmet at 7 years old. It was really the only football position he’d ever known. But upon transferring to Lincoln High School (San Diego, California) and going out for the team as a junior, he found the spot filled.
“There were two guys who were our starting running backs, and it didn’t look like I was going to break through to the starting running back spot. They were super fast, pretty good (players),” Davis told STACK. “I played running back my entire life up to that point.”
During a game against nearby Point Loma High School, the team’s coach decided to utilize Davis on the field goal block team. Davis lined up over the long snapper, hit a swim move and blocked the kick. That play solidified Davis as the starter at a position that’s just about as different from running back as possible—nose guard. Tasked with lining up directly over the center on the defensive line, nose guard is a position that requires major grit and rarely gets much glory.
“The coach asked me to go in on field goal block. I went in at nose guard over the center. I swam the center and blocked that kick. From that point on, they put me in at nose guard,” Davis recalls.
Some players might’ve been dissatisfied with the situation—it’s not hard to imagine a guy who fancies himself a pretty good running back being revolted at the idea of toiling in the trenches instead of scoring touchdowns. But Davis accepted his role and played with extraordinary effort. One of his assistant coaches told Sports Illustrated that “(Stopping Davis at nose guard) was like trying to block a greased pig.”
Davis might’ve been undersized for the position on paper, but his functional strength and burst off the ball made him a force on the defensive interior. “The mindset I had was, I wasn’t big, but I was pretty strong. Pretty compact,” Davis said. “I threw newspapers every morning for like 8 years. So riding that bike (as a paper boy) every morning gave me some pretty big quad muscles. I was kinda built pretty strong. But I enjoyed (nose guard), I loved being in the trenches and the hand combat and swimming and getting to the quarterback. That was fun for me.”
That best-for-the-team attitude helped Davis earn the respect of his coaches and teammates, and he became the starting running back his senior season. That put him on the path for a Hall of Fame NFL career that saw him win two Super Bowls and become the 1998 NFL MVP. Can you imagine if he’d quit when his coach asked him to play nose guard?
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