MISSOULA — Kyle Davis helps lead the Montana football team into battle each week.
The Griz defensive tackle is one of 11 seniors who heads a line of players during pregame stretches. It's the most action Davis has seen on the field this year since he hasn’t played much through eight games, and he relishes the leadership opportunity.
“Whether I play all four years or didn’t play one snap here, I want the guys to look at me and still be inspired and still think, ‘I can learn something from him,’ or, ‘That’s quite the dude right there,’” Davis said. “It’s really cool to lead a line, especially as a senior because I feel like you truly earned that right to stand in front of your teammates and lead them out.”
Davis has stayed dedicated to the program while others in better situations have transferred out. He’s playing for his third coach in five years, he’s seen his playing time decline in each of the past four seasons and he’s had to pay his own way as an out-of-state walk-on player before earning a scholarship this year.
A popular person with teammates, Davis couldn’t give up on them. It’s not who he is. He doesn’t back down easily, and that’s visible in the classroom, where he’s chasing longtime dreams of becoming a medical doctor.
“I think those are the kinds of people you want to be around,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “It’s the kind of people you like having in your life. Hopefully we get a bunch of those.”
Life of learning
Davis grew up in San Diego, where his parents worked for the United States Navy. His dad, Ron Davis, built F-18 fighter jets. His mom, Trelli Davis, works in securing contracts.
His house never had a military feel since his parents were civilians and not on active duty. But they still required great discipline out of Davis and his sister.
“My parents really stressed education because they knew and saw the benefits that it could have,” Davis said. “They want me and my sister to be very successful and happy in life and get everything we can out of it. They saw education as the way to get that.”
Davis enjoyed going to school growing up, enthralled by absorbing as much information as he could on a daily basis.
As a kid, he was fascinated by his science classes, especially biology. Now, he’s captivated by his anatomy and physiology courses in his health and human performance major.
“When I learn something new and it sticks, I get really excited, and I just love it,” Davis said. “It’s just one of those really good feelings.”
While he credits his parents with helping shape him, he’s quick to point out the impact his grandfather had on him. He and his grandfather could sit down and talk for stretches about wide-ranging life topics, including the realities of growing up and becoming an independent person.
His grandfather died during Davis’ senior year of high school, and the nuggets of wisdom have stuck with him, including one about finding a spouse.
“One that sticks out was, he said, ‘Whoever you marry, make sure she’s smarter than you,’” Davis recalled. “He wanted me to marry a smart girl, so I got to keep that in mind.”
Foray in football
Football wasn’t Davis’ sport of choice as a kid. He enjoyed baseball.
Davis got started in football because his friends who he played baseball with joined the football team. He initially didn’t take to the gridiron, joining them one year later because the sociable person couldn’t stand being away from them.
“I like being around people,” Davis said. “I think that’s initially what stuck with me. Then everything that football brings and can teach you, it’s just unmatched. I can’t imagine my life growing up to this point without it. It was integral in shaping who I am.”
Football was almost taken away from Davis when he was 12 years old. He dislocated his left knee while playing football. Then he did it again. And again.
In total, he dislocated his knee five times in two years before he went to a doctor who found out through an X-ray that Davis’ alignment was off in his lower extremities, making him prone to dislocations. He had reconstruction surgery on June 2, 2009, and hasn’t had any problems since.
Following that, Davis had success as a two-sport athlete at Cathedral Catholic High School. He was an all-conference wrestler, a three-time all-conference honoree as a defensive end and was named the Eastern League Defensive Player of the Year.
After his senior season, he accepted a walk-on spot at Montana, his lone Division I offer, and redshirted under head coach Mick Delaney in 2014. When Bob Stitt took over, Davis played in 11 games and tallied 12 tackles. Those numbers went down to nine games and eight tackles as a sophomore, and five games and three tackles as a junior.
With Hauck taking over this offseason, Davis earned a spot on the fall camp depth chart for special teams, an exciting moment for him since he knew the importance special teams holds to Hauck. However, he’s seen action in just one game this year, but he’s stuck it out while he could be focusing on his off-the-field future.
“It’s all the guys in the locker room. It’s all the teammates. I really did it for them,” Davis said. “I always knew and believed in my ability and knew what it is that I could contribute if need be. We had other guys that had the ability to go out on the field and make plays. I knew I had that ability as well, but they went out and did it better. I was always ready if need be.”
Sweet as sugar
When Davis came to Montana, then-defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak christened him with the nickname “Square Bear.”
“By his words, I was short and wide, and I was built like a square,” the 6-foot-1, 270-pound Davis recalled.
As others on the team started to learn of the nickname, then-co-offensive coordinator Kefense Hynson started calling Davis “Sugar Bear.” The name has stuck, with people calling Davis either “Sugar,” “Sugar Bear” or “Bear.”
The personable Davis is fine with the good-natured ribbings, taking it as well as he dishes it out.
The jokes came through during film prep for Southern Utah earlier this week. A player wearing No. 55 with a similar build to Davis was chasing down an opponent to tackle on a punt, leading to a zinger from Hauck.
“He was like, ‘C’mon, Suge, get him,’” Davis said. “It was pretty funny. I already knew because as soon as I saw he was No. 55, I was like, ‘Oh, here it comes.’”
His status as a team favorite was visible in the reaction to some big news during fall camp. In a team meeting on Aug. 16, he read a letter out loud saying he was being put on scholarship, leading to an eruption of celebration from his teammates.
“He’s a fun guy to be around,” Hauck said. “He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s pretty relentlessly positive, which makes him a good guy to be around.”
Long road ahead
Davis doesn’t recall a specific moment that sparked why he wanted to become a doctor. He’s heard from his mom that when she was pregnant with him, she’d feel him move around when she watched a specific doctor show on TV.
“She kind of attributes that to why I want to be a physician,” Davis said.
He’s a naturally outgoing person, giving his time to deliver Thanksgiving turkeys with teammates in his first year at Montana and spreading the word about the Griz for Kids Toy Drive this year. That personality, combined with his love of science, made the doctor occupation a natural choice to him.
“I really enjoy the service aspect that medicine has,” Davis said. “You’re a servant to the people and the patients that need you. I think that’s the core of why I like medicine in particular.”
Davis is currently considering going into either non-surgical orthopedics, general practice or pediatrics. He’s gotten real-life experience by volunteering at Community Medical Center, shadowing surgeries and doing an internship at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in the cardiac rehabilitation center this past summer.
“He’s got a bright future,” Hauck said. “He’s a classic example of treat your walk-on players well because they’re going to be somebody’s boss pretty soon, probably yours.”
Davis will be taking more pre-med courses as he prepares to take the MCAT — Medical College Admission Test — within the next year. As he prepares to embark on that eight-year journey, his time in Missoula is something he won’t forget.
“It’s been great,” Davis said. “A lot of memories. A lot of growth. A lot of happiness. I wouldn’t trade it for any other experience. It’s been great here. I feel like I’ve always got a home in Missoula.”