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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / South Pittsburg defensive lineman Gio Davis, with ball, heads to the end zone for a touchdown after recovering a Coalfield fumble in midair during a TSSAA Class 1A semifinal on Nov. 27.

The TSSAA informed South Pittsburg High School on Wednesday that its hardship request for all-state defensive lineman Gio Davis has been approved, allowing the rising senior to remain eligible to play football.

The Pirates were placed on two years of probation last week for what the state's prep sports governing body deemed "improper benefits to a player's family."

According to TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress, the violation occurred when a member of the South Pittsburg Quarterback Club used funds to help make the December rent payment for the Davis family. That two-year probation, which does not affect the Pirates' ability to qualify for the postseason but does reduce the number of spring and fall scrimmages allowed, will remain in place.

However, in a letter sent to the school Wednesday afternoon, Childress notified South Pittsburg its request to grant Davis an eligibility hardship had been granted.

"Gio is a big, tough kid, but when I called him in to tell him the news that he would get to continue playing for the Pirates this fall, he broke down," South Pittsburg principal Tim Bible said. "I just gave him a hug and told him to get back to class. I'm just so happy for that kid and his family because they came here looking for a better life, and they've fallen in love with our community and school.

"Somebody in the Pirates family tried to do something good for a family in need at the holidays, but they went about it the wrong way and we'll take the punishment for that as a program. But this never should have affected the kid, so it's a great relief today to be told he's good to go."

Davis, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman, led South Pittsburg's defense last season with 18 tackles for loss, had 52 total tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns.

He currently has scholarship offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arizona State and Eastern Kentucky.

In the letter to the school, Childress stated: "After reviewing the information that has been submitted, the hardship is approved. The student is therefore eligible to participate in varsity athletics at South Pittsburg High School."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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