It's hard for a field goal kicker to feel wanted.
All game long, a kicker waits on the sideline, forgotten. Then, when the offense sputters, he suddenly gets called upon to salvage the drive. Sometimes the game is on the line and the pressure is intense, what former President George Bush used to call "tension city." All eyes in the stadium are on him as he trots out onto the field, traces his steps back from the holder and awaits the snap.
For USC placekicker David Davis, that kind of tension is nothing compared to the work he did as an Emergency Medical Technician with the Inglewood Fire Department. He saw up close what goes into saving lives and what is at stake on a daily basis.
"I had always wanted to do something in that field," said Davis, who transferred to USC from El Camino Junior College in Torrance (Calif.). "I got EMT certified and worked in that field for about two years. There's a program with the Inglewood Fire Department called ‘Fire Explorer' where they teach you everything about the firefighter duties, so I did that. Because I was EMT certified, I would usually work with the paramedics and go to the fires with them. Just the fact that I was a part of saving people's lives was great. It felt good to help them. But doing what I did, there's a lot of pressure. All eyes are on you."
Not unlike being a field goal kicker. In his first four games at USC, Davis has brought some confidence back to the Trojan kicking game. He has hit four-of-six field goals, with a long of 43. He nailed three clutch field goals in a hostile environment at Oregon to help Troy come back in that game. For the first time in a while, USC has a potential lifesaver at kicker.
Davis prepped at Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, where he played football as well as soccer. With no colleges interested in him in either sport, he enrolled at El Camino, a school with an excellent fire studies program. He started out playing soccer for El Camino, but it wasn't long before the football team caught wind of his abilities.
"When I went on to junior college, I wasn't considering playing football, just soccer," said Davis. "After the first year, John Featherstone, the football coach, said they needed a kicker, so I thought I'd give it a shot. He liked what he saw and asked if I wanted to be the kicker."
For the next few months, the soccer coach and Featherstone tried to put together a schedule for Davis where he could play both sports, but it turned out to be too strenuous on his leg. Davis made the decision to stick with football.
"I thought it would give me more opportunities," he said.
Davis was a 2000 J.C. Grid-Wire All-American second team pick as a sophomore, when he hit 11-of-15 field goals and 29-of-31 PATs. USC special teams coordinator Kennedy Pola liked what he saw in Davis and a scholarship offer was soon forthcoming.
"Right off the bat, Coach Pola let me know that USC was struggling and they thought I could help the situation," said Davis. "I was just thanking God for the opportunity to be here."
Davis, the first left-footed placekicker at USC since Quin Rodriguez in 1990, has a unique style to his kicking. On his approach, he kicks his knee high and takes a long first step.
"My kicking coach, Joe Furlow, emphasized that the first step on my approach should be a big first step," explains Davis. "By getting my knee up high like that, it allows me to get my foot out there. When I'm back there waiting for the kick, I tell myself ‘Big first step!' and that gets me into my technique."
So far, Davis has taken that big first step as USC's kicker and it's been a successful one. But he still thinks about his days as an EMT and wants to return to that field one day, even though he is majoring in sociology at USC. The events of September 11th in New York, with all the firefighters who fell in the line of duty, really hit home for Davis.
"I think about what happened a lot," he said. "Every time they talk about supporting the firefighters who got hurt or died, I'm always into it. I try to stay aware of everything that's going on with them."
Indeed, his work with the fire department has given Davis a new outlook on life.
"It puts everything in perspective and you see that this is something than can happen to your family," said Davis. "You see that life is not just about football and school, it's about God and family.
"Football and school are important, but there are bigger things."