FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The average National Football League player's career lasts less than four years. In that respect, Carl Davis, now in his seventh NFL season, has beaten the odds. It hasn't been easy for him, however. The Patriots, whom Davis joined in October 2020, are his fifth club since 2015, and this Detroit, Michigan native hopes to stay a while longer.
"I just want to be part of the reason why we have plenty of success here," he remarked after Friday's practice before the 2021 regular season opener. "I'm working my tail off right now to be an asset to this team, whether it's taking on double-teams or doing the dirty work. Hopefully, I can apply some pressure to the quarterback and get back there as well.
"It's just been what it is," he added about his circuitous NFL journey to date. "Whether it's a numbers game or I don't fit a certain system, I just take the punches as they come."
ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES
Working with his hands seemed to come naturally to a young Carl. At age two, he discovered he could use them to make percussive, rhythmic sounds by pounding away on pots and pans in his mother's kitchen. This eventually impelled her to get her son a proper drum set. Carl proved so naturally gifted at the drums – he didn't take formal lessons until later in life – that Ovella Davis, a pastor in the Detroit area, enlisted him to play in her church's full band.
"It was work for me," he laughed at the memory, "but I had a balanced life between church and sports."
Carl confessed that he would have preferred to be shooting hoops in his backyard, but he loved the drums and his mom, so, he kept going back to church week after week. There, he met a man whose son and nephew took boxing lessons at a nearby gym. This piqued young Carl's interest. Yet, being bigger than most kids his age proved more inhibiting than he may have anticipated.
"I couldn't get many fights because I was so big. I had to spar against older guys, but the older guys would beat me up," he laughed again. "But I had a good time."
He also learned some lessons and skills that would prove valuable when he later suited up for football.
"Being my size [6-5, 320], I can move pretty well. I've got quick feet. Boxing and jumping rope definitely helped me with that."
A highly-touted all-around athlete coming out of high school (he also lettered in basketball and track & field), Davis chose the University of Iowa to continue his football career as a defensive lineman. Longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz redshirted Davis for his true freshman season in 2010.
Over the next two seasons, Davis played a backup role in Iowa City before earning a starting job as a redshirt junior in 2013. By the end of his 2014 senior season, he'd been invited to take part in the Senior Bowl (January 2015), where he opened enough NFL eyes to be named Practice Player of the Week. Davis continued to boost his draft stock at the February 2015 NFL Combine and throughout the ensuing pre-draft visits and private workouts with various teams. The Baltimore Ravens eventually selected Davis in Round 3.
Following a relatively productive 2015 rookie season (three starts in 13 games), Davis found himself in a competition for Baltimore's starting nose tackle position. However, he suffered an ankle injury in the Ravens' 2016 preseason finale and was subsequently placed on injured reserve.
Davis bounced back with a solid 2017 campaign (nine starts in 15 appearances), but the Ravens released Davis at the conclusion of the 2018 preseason. Since then, he's struggled to find a permanent NFL home. Davis had brief stints with Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville over the past three years before the Patriots signed him last October.
Adversity met Davis almost immediately upon arrival in Foxborough, however, as he sustained a concussion during his second week of practice with New England. Inactive for his first three Patriots games, Davis eventually saw action in the next three, including a start against his original club, the Ravens, last November. Yet, lingering concussion effects landed Davis on IR later that same month.
Each time Davis has been knocked down in the NFL, though, he's managed to pick himself back up. Today, after a healthy offseason in the Patriots' program and a good showing throughout the spring and summer, the 29-year-old finds himself with an opportunity to contribute to New England's front-seven rotation as an interior defensive lineman.
But no matter where football has taken Davis, or where it will lead him next, he's never forgotten where he came from, nor failed to recognize that not everyone has been as fortunate as he has.
IN SERVICE TO OTHERS
As a boy, Carl attended schools in both Detroit's inner city and its suburbs, which gave him a rare perspective on some of the disparities between the two, particularly their education systems.
"So, I want to do my part in my city," he explained, "to equal the playing field for every student that wants to go to the next level but might not have the opportunity that I had."
Toward that end, Davis as an adult established his own charitable organization, the Trenchwork Foundation.
"We want to give back to the Detroit community. Long-term, if I have the resources, we're looking to take my old elementary school and turn it into a recreational center, provide aid for after-school programs. That was one of the biggest things for me growing up, going to the boxing gym. But a lot of the schools and rec centers are shut down in the city today."
In his various NFL stops across the country, Davis has also taken note of another problem – homelessness among military veterans. As a result, he's joined forces with his aunt, who served in the armed forces and has a charitable organization of her own that's dedicated to helping military veterans get back on their own two feet.
"It's crazy," Davis observed, "for people that served our country, who give us the freedom that we have, not to have a place to stay. If you don't have a place to stay, how are you going to get employed? We've had so many guys transition out of our program into becoming stable and it's been a good feeling to give back and watch them grow – a new place, new car, a job."
With such noble intentions and actions off the field, it's fitting that Davis has perhaps, at long last, finally found a more permanent football home on the field here in Foxborough. For this, he in part credits his time with Ferentz, the Iowa head coach, father to current Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz, and close friend and former assistant to Patriots boss Bill Belichick when the two coaches were with the Cleveland Browns.
"I told [the Patriots coaches] last year that's the reason why I feel so comfortable here and at home here, because it's that same type of mentality. Coach Ferentz has a similar program to here – hard-nosed, doing things in a detailed way.
"I didn't know how [my NFL career] was going to end up," Davis concluded, "but now I'm here and happy to be here."