Running Backs Help Each Other Cope

Through recent injuries and deaths of their fathers, Brandon Barnett and Knile Davis have forged a bond in the Arkansas backfield.

FAYETTEVILLE — Knile Davis' grieving mother didn't want him to return to Arkansas, and even when he rejoined his teammates earlier this month, he didn't feel like his old self.

His mind wasn't on football. He felt like he couldn't do anything right. And in his third practice back, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino yelled at the freshman running back and cut his reps with the offense.

That night, Davis returned to his dorm room and did what he and his family had done since his father's funeral only a few days earlier. He cried.

"I went to my room, cried and then I told myself I was going to do better," Davis said. "I was going to get back on it, so that's what I did."

But the freshman hasn't had to confront death alone.

Four months before Davis went back to Texas to bury his father, Arkansas tailback Brandon Barnett made a similar trip home to attend his stepfather's funeral.

Over the past few weeks, the two teammates have shared stories and reminisced about the good times. They've worked in practice to try to crack Arkansas' running back rotation. And with the knowledge that Barnett gained from his stepfather's death in April from pancreatic cancer, Davis has learned to cope with his own loss.

"We make each other feel better," said Davis, who turns 18 on Oct. 5. "He told me how he got over (his stepfather's death), and I kind of took some of the suggestions he told me and they worked."

Davis joked that he and Barnett are like twins, and though separated by three years, they've endured similar situations over the past few months.

Barnett broke his right leg nine days after Davis broke his right rankle in spring practice. Both have recovered from their injuries and are considered long shots to enter Saturday's season opener against Missouri State as one of the top three running backs on Arkansas' depth chart.

But their bond has grown beyond football.

Davis returned to Houston earlier this month, missing the first three days of Arkansas' preseason camp to be with his family following the death of his father. Back in Fayetteville, Barnett didn't know if he should call his teammate or wait until everyone else had offered their condolences.

"I just kind of sat back and just let everything else die down. I texted him," Barnett said. "I was like, 'Hey, if you need anything, I know what you're going through. If you need someone to talk to, just call me. It's just a phone call away and all that helps just to get your mind off of it.'"

Barnett admitted he had a difficult time in April getting over the death of his stepfather, John Larry, who showed the running back how to carry himself as a man. And even though he was competing for playing time, Barnett missed most of the first three weeks of spring practice to grieve with his family.

"It was pretty hard," said Barnett, who has rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons with the Razorbacks. "Death is no good for anyone."

So he wanted to make sure to be there for Davis.

Even after he returned to practice on Aug. 9, Davis had difficulty turning his focus back to football. He said he felt bad about leaving his mother in Texas. He also was "very, very close" to his father, a former basketball player who taught him how to work out as an eighth-grader by running hills and stadium bleachers.

Davis' father's name isn't listed in Arkansas' media guide like that of other players and it's not included on the records that Arkansas' football staff has on the freshman. The cause of his death is also unknown.

"It's been real tough. My mom actually didn't want me to come back," said Davis, who's the youngest of Regina Davis' six children. "She was just feeling real bad in Houston, but I told her to be strong and I'm going to do it for her. I'm going to do it for my dad and everything."

Considering how tough the past few weeks have been, Davis said he has "nowhere to go but up." But Barnett has helped. The two tailbacks talk often and try to cheer each other up with stories from their pasts.

It's all part of the grieving process.

"Just being there for each other and just knowing him and knowing how he is, you just kind of feel crushed a little bit," Barnett said of Davis' loss. "But one thing that I've learned from my experiences is everything happens for a reason and you just have to pick your head up and keep on going."

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