EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second story in a series counting down the top five University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players of the past decade.
Being next in line after a three-time Football Championship Subdivision All-American and a fourth-round NFL draft pick made the expectations pretty high for Keionta Davis at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He did more than enough to meet those expectations.
No, Davis wasn't Davis Tull, the aforementioned player, but he didn't need to be. Davis cried when he signed papers to become a Moc in 2012, starting a college football career he thought would never happen due to a knee injury that took away his high school senior season at Red Bank.
Then, after a redshirt year to get bigger, Davis went to work. As a redshirt sophomore, he had 5.5 sacks and made the All-Southern Conference second team. And after three-time SoCon defensive player of the year Tull graduated, Davis stepped right in for the 2015 season and posted 13.5 sacks, which still stands as the Mocs' single-season record and was the second-highest total in the country. He was named a second-team All-American after that season.
"I've got to work harder now," he said during spring practice in 2016. "My team looks forward to me pass rushing and creating havoc in the backfield, so I have to work harder and get my teammates involved as well."
Being able to duplicate his 2015 production was always going to be a tough task due to even more attention being paid to Davis. Another factor was the emergence of senior Vantrel McMillan, who had 7.5 sacks in 2016 and was an All-SoCon first-team pick as well, but David did his best, posting a pair of three-sack performances and finishing with 10.5 sacks on his way to being named SoCon defensive player of the year and receiving first-team All-America recognition.
He was ninth in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the top defensive player in the FCS, marking his second top-20 finish in as many seasons and the highest ever by a Moc.
"He's hard to block," Russ Huesman, UTC's head coach at the time, said of Davis after a three-sack, three-hurry performance in a win over Virginia Military Institute in 2016. "We've had every NFL team come out to see him this season, and they were here today. Excellent player, talented, no question about that."
Getting drafted was not just a goal but the expectation for a man who finished his UTC career with 31 sacks and 43 tackles for loss, both totals that rank second in program history behind Tull. That expectation was put on hold after a bulging disk in his neck kept NFL teams from using a pick on him, but that hasn't stopped the New England Patriots from taking multiple chances on Davis. He has twice signed as a free agent with the Patriots — and received a Super Bowl ring after they beat the Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl LIII in February 2018 — but was recently released after spending this past season on injured reserve.
That aspect of his life hasn't quite gone how he would have dreamed, but his standing as one of his college program's top players — regardless of decade — is etched in the history books.
"I just want everybody to know I gave it my all," Davis said prior to senior night on 2016. "Every time I come out here, I enjoy playing here. I enjoy going out every Saturday and putting on a performance, and I want everybody to see me as that type of person."
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