Patriots sign former UTC defensive end Keionta Davis

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 3/30/17. Keionta Davis, 93, and other University of Tennessee at Chattanooga seniors run drills for NFL scouts at Finley Stadium on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

A private workout conducted in the spring by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick put former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga All-America defensive end Keionta Davis on the Super Bowl champions' radar.

The Patriots finally took a chance on their target Friday.

Davis signed a free-agent deal with the organization, where he will start on the non-football injury list until he is fully healed from a bulging disk that prevented him from being drafted. He will be with the team through the season, with the opportunity to work out in New England while he heals.

Davis and UTC offensive lineman Corey Levin were put through the March workout by Belichick himself, who kept in touch with Davis since the draft.

"He just told me to keep working, that you never know," Davis said by phone Friday evening. "I'm glad to be in the organization."

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound graduate of Red Bank High School was a two-time All-American with the Mocs and was the Southern Conference defensive player of the year in 2016, when he had 10.5 sacks. That came after a 2015 season in which he had a school-record 13.5 sacks.

He was on the fast track to the NFL draft before some tests while at the scouting combine showed the back problem that needed time to heal. Some teams still were considering taking a chance on the talented pass-rusher, noting that the 2017 season would essentially be a "redshirt" year for Davis to get better.

The Patriots finally did.

Davis is responsible for staying in shape and working out while he's in Massachusetts, and once he's cleared he'll be ready to suit up for the defending Super Bowl champions.

"It's a great situation that I'm fortunate to be in," Davis said. "To go from not knowing - the injury left me in the dark - to signing with these guys, shows they actually care.

"I don't think it's set in yet, but I'm ready to get to work."

Davis becomes the third player from the 2016 UTC team to sign with an NFL organization, joining sixth-round draft pick Levin (Tennessee Titans) and free-agent receiver C.J. Board (Ravens). In addition, three-time SoCon offensive player of the year Jacob Huesman is fighting for a position with the New York Giants, giving the Mocs four players from the last two seasons on NFL rosters.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.