Gulfport High football coach Eddie Pierce now recognizes the Chauncey Davis he remembered from their days together at Jones County Junior College.
Davis, the Admirals defensive line coach, transferred from JCJC to play two years at Florida State. He earned second-team All-ACC honors as a senior defensive end with the Seminoles and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2005.
He spent seven seasons in the NFL, six with the Falcons and a final year, 2011, with the Chicago Bears.
Once his playing career was behind him, Davis admittedly took a while to adjust to being just another Joe.
Specifically, the physical toll he paid playing football his entire life weighed on him.
“(I was) just dealing with a lot of stuff,” Davis said of the days immediately after his final game with the Bears in 2011. “Dealing with the injuries. Dealing with the concussions. Not being able to sleep. Not being able to control my anger. There were a lot of things. Some of the stuff you hear on TV, that’s kind of how I was.”
Said Pierce: “His career was over and he was floundering a little bit. He had some back problems and was dealing with some concussion issues. Through him, I saw how quickly it can be taken from you. I really did. One minute he’s riding high with the Falcons and bam, they trade him.”
Pierce and Davis kept in touch throughout the years. Pierce periodically traveled to Atlanta to see Davis play and has a framed Falcons jersey in his office. Davis initially reached out to Pierce after he retired to see if he had any assistant positions available. It wasn’t the right fit then, but three years later, Davis got the call he’d been waiting on.
“I was still living in Georgia and when I got the call I was actually on vacation in Florida,” Davis said before Tuesday’s practice. “I got home and was thinking about it — I don’t know why I had to think about it because I already knew I wanted to come.”
Love of the game
Being around his son’s youth football team in Georgia gave Davis the initial nudge to get into coaching.
“I always said I’d never coach, but once I stopped playing, when I’d go to my son’s practices and games, I’d get excited by coaching,” Davis said. “So I said, ‘Hey, let me try this out and see if I like it and actually I love it.’ I love teaching the young kids and I love being able to be a positive role model in their lives.”
During Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Louisiana Class 3A power De La Salle of New Orleans, Davis spent time with the defensive linemen as a whole, running them through drills. He’d periodically pull the players aside to personally correct their technique.
Instead of what might be considered a stereotypical practice, where players are cutting up while the coach speaks, the Admirals linemen were quiet and listened. They soaked in what the former pro had to offer.
It was the same way before practice, when the linemen went over film from the previous day’s practice.
“My thing I try to instill into the kids is being consistent,” Davis said. “I tell them that at the next level you always have to be consistent. There’s days that you may not want to practice, but you have to get out there and you have to practice because if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you get cut in the NFL. I tell them you have to come out here every day, be ready to practice, be ready to leave it all out there on the field. The league is ‘what have you done for me lately.’
“That’s how it is and what I try to instill in them, no matter what you do, go hard, practice at a high level and learn how to be a pro.
“Eventually — hopefully — they’ll learn what (being a pro) means.”
One might think hiring a former All-ACC standout and retired NFL lineman would be a big boost to Gulfport’s defense — which it is — but Davis maintains he actually gets more from his kids than vice versa.
Coaching at Gulfport has given Davis a purpose, a second lease on life when for a while he felt lost.
“I’m getting just as much from them. They’re part of the reason I love getting up in the morning, getting up here and helping out,” Davis said. “Three years ago there’s no telling where I could have been. I was in a very bad place mentally. Physically I was in a very bad place. Just to come out here, it really just helped to balance me out.”
It would be easy for someone who made millions during his first career to act as if he was better than everyone else. Pierce said that’s not Davis.
“He’s such a great guy,” Pierce said. “The school loves him. He goes to every athletic event. He’s out here moving hurdles, watching volleyball, washing clothes. He doesn’t bring (his playing career) up very much. To the kids, he’s just Coach Davis.”