Super Bowl LIII champion Keionta Davis vividly remembers a mentor and friend who helped push him to strive to be the best he could be.
While reaching the highest pinnacle for a professional athlete, the New England Patriots' third-year defensive lineman has been reminded often of the bond formed with his head coach at Red Bank High School.
"If it wasn't for Coach (Tim) Daniels, I would not be where I am at today," Davis said of his coach who died last year. "He led the way for me and laid everything out and made it easy. He believed in me to do greater things. I think about him all the time. Every time I get ready for a game I think of him. I know if he was out there in the stands or watching me, he would want me to go all out every snap and in practice, too."
One of the top defensive players in University of Tennessee at Chattanooga history — he totaled 43 tackles for loss and 31 sacks — Davis remembers that Daniels convinced him to get back to playing football after not playing at all as a 10th-grader. A playoff moment on the road against Maplewood also sticks out.
"It was the start of the fourth quarter, and Coach D came to me and really fired me up to go make a play," Davis said. "I would run through a wall for that man. He really has given me a spark throughout my entire career. The next play I got a safety. Even after my high school career we kept in contact. I have so much appreciation for that man and who he was."
Davis has been an overcomer in his 25 years of life.
He couldn't play his senior year with the Lions due to injury, and despite being a mid-to-late-round projection in the 2017 NFL draft, he had a neck injury and had to sign as a free agent.
The journey has been worth it, though, as Davis has found a home and family with one of the top organizations in all of professional sports.
"Playing for Bill (Belichick) is great, especially for young guys," Davis said. "You have to be a professional and you learn what it takes to win right off the bat. There is no room for error. As soon as you walk in the complex, everybody is detailed, focused and goal-oriented. It's a blessing to have such a great foundation to start my NFL career."
Mistakes were few for New England's defense against a prolific offense in the 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Los Angeles Rams, and Davis provided vital help.
He had played in six games and dressed out for every contest in the 2018 season, in which he had six tackles and three stuffs. Normally a defensive end, he played in the middle more.
"The practices leading up to the Super Bowl are the most memorable to me," Davis said. "Everything was so right on point. We knew then we were going to get things right and not make mistakes.
"The great thing for me was I played (in practice) the show-team looks for the Rams' defensive line, which was ridiculously good. I had to put in 110 percent effort to give our offense the best look possible to go out there and be prepared. Even though I wasn't playing in the game, it was cool to see I made an impact and be told that by some of my teammates who played, after the game."
Davis said six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, whom he must challenge in practice, is very down to earth. He even describes the worldwide star as a "typical 40-year-old dad" who answers any questions the younger players may have for him. But there is an edge about him.
"Tom is super competitive and gets us fired up as a whole all the time," Davis said. "He is one of many great players who puts in the preparation every day. It's been amazing to see him and all the guys put in the work behind the scenes. This organization is all about family, hard work and winning."
Davis is excited about the upcoming season and is ready for training camp to begin on July 25 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Using his explosiveness, size and length, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Davis looks to make his presence felt in even greater ways after learning the playbook and getting acclimated to the NFL speed of play.
"I am going to play hard and fast," he said. "I have learned how they block in the NFL, and I really know I can create mismatches with my athleticism. I am more comfortable now. The numbers will come when they come, but nothing is more important than winning."
Hoping to one day be a part of yet another parade through the streets of Boston, Davis has experienced the thrill of a champion. He has embraced the Patriots' culture and works to keep making those close to him proud.
He also is one of the biggest fans of Red Bank sports, as he and all three of his brothers played for the Lions, and a sister plays softball there as well.
"I have such a great support system," he said. "I have made so many unique friendships and bonds throughout the journey. My family always picks me up and keeps me settled. They are always there for me. I know Coach D is also there for me and rooting me on from Heaven."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.