Carey Davis arrived at Illinois as a freshman from Hazelwood Central High School in Florissant, Missouri in time for the 1999 football season. A relative unknown at the time, Illinois coaches saw potential in Carey, and they were correct. He is now the starting fullback for the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. He spoke recently with media about the opportunity ahead.
"It was a big game Sunday against the Ravens, beating our rival on the way to the Super Bowl. We wouldn't have it any other way. We're looking forward to next Sunday. We've got to take care of business."
Davis had some success at Illinois, but fullback is a position that receives little publicity. Only the NFL scouts were aware he might someday play pro ball. Even then, he had to prove himself just like he did in college.
"It's been a long road. I was bouncing around from team to team, feeling like I had done everything I could at the other places, and I didn't have the opportunity I felt I deserved. I finally came to Pittsburgh, and everything fell into place. I became the starting fullback, and everything's been working out since then."
Carey bounced around from practice squad to practice squad early in his career.
"I started off in Indianapolis. I was on the active roster for one game, and then I was released. And then I went to Atlanta, where I was on the practice squad for 3 or 4 weeks and was then active for the playoffs where we ended up losing to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship.
"In Tampa and Miami, I was just on the practice squads. Tampa cut me twice. And then I was in Miami for about a week before I came here in about week 7 or 8 of the 2006 season. I've been here ever since."
Carey Davis' story sounds somewhat similar to former Illini star Howard Griffith, who went from being a college walkon to a starting fullback spot in the NFL. Both men overcame numerous obstacles and persevered until their dreams came true.
"There were a couple of times I got frustrated, but I never got to the point where I said I can't do it anymore. I always tell people that when you get in situations like that, you can either give up or go harder. I've just always been the type to work harder and give more effort, and it finally paid off."
Carey attributes his recent success more to opportunity than talent.
"I feel like I performed the same in the other places, it's just the opportunities weren't there as there was here."
Still, he does admit he has continued to grow and improve each season.
"I've been learning more and understanding the game better. I had a lot of talent and not a lot of knowledge. The talent stayed the same, but the knowledge increased, knowing what to do and what to expect. I'm a lot more mature than I was."
Davis says his experience at Illinois prepared him well for the pro game.
"The offense we ran when Coach (Ron) Turner was there was a pro style offense, and it kind of helped me transition to what to expect from the NFL. The play-calling, routes and runs we did at Illinois were the same things we still call now. Being familiar and being able to transfer over to the NFL helped me out a lot."
Pittsburgh teammate Rashard Mendenhall, an All-American running back, spent the year on the sidelines with a fractured shoulder. He declined an interview opportunity, but Davis spoke for him.
"Rashard's been doing pretty good. Rehab is frustrating. We've had big games where he hasn't been able to help us, and I know its frustrating for him since he had high expectations and goals for the season. But I expect him to be full strength next season and help us win games."
Carey Davis is making Illinois fans proud. Look for #38 blocking for runs and catching balls out of the backfield for Pittsburgh against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.