Wyatt Davis emerges as leader for Ohio State offense: 'He’s one of the juice guys'
Wyatt Davis was working out in McKinney, Texas, on an early morning in September when he received a phone call from Ryan Day.
The Ohio State football coach rang to give him some good news.
A Big Ten season was back on, Day told Davis, paving the way for Ohio State to return to the field and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
In the days prior, Davis had accepted the likelihood of a fall without football. The previous week, he left school to prepare for the NFL draft and had relocated to suburban Dallas to train with Duke Manyweather, a private offensive line coach, at Michael Johnson Performance.
But the conference’s dramatic reversal on Sept. 16 prompted a change in those plans. With the season restarting, Davis booked a flight to Columbus and returned to join the Buckeyes on the same day the about-face was announced.
“That wasn't even a decision that was thought about for more than two seconds,” said his father, Duane Davis.
As Davis opted back in, his return gave the Buckeyes a significant boost, reinstalling an All-American and prospective first-round NFL draft pick on their offensive line.
But the right guard with a knack for opening holes for running backs also brought needed vocal leadership for the playoff contenders.
“He’s one of the juice guys of the offense,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “He plays very hard. He plays very tough. But he brings a little bit of energy, he brings a little bit of a voice.”
Early in the offseason, Davis assumed a larger leadership role among his teammates. It was something he observed in former veteran teammates and sought to emulate in winter workouts.
“Just try to inspire greatness out of others,” Davis said.
Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti took notice and asked him to speak in front of the team when they began a week of grueling mat drills.
Davis delivered a rousing enough of a pep talk that he reprises the addresses at games this season. At the start of warmups, teammates form a huddle around him in the end zone before he leaves them with words of motivation.
While this marks a rite of passage for an upperclassman in his fourth season with the Buckeyes, Davis was also hardened by last season’s narrow playoff loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Duane Davis saw the effect as soon as they returned to the family home in the Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes, California. One day after the defeat they found the semifinal re-airing on ESPN.
“He was just as emotionally affected watching it on TV the next day as he was when they lost it on the day before,” Duane Davis said. “That was tough.”
Wyatt's reaction was different than ones that followed previous losses. While playing in youth sports leagues in southern California, Davis was an easygoing kid rather someone who hung on every result. Once games ended, he was in search of pizza or other treats.
Duane recalls one of Wyatt's earliest T-ball games. While positioned as the shortstop, he was preoccupied with drawing figures in the infield dirt.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, pay attention,’ ” Duane recalled, “and he looked at me and just started laughing. That was kind of Wyatt, just happy-go-lucky, happy to be out there and having a good time and being around kids.”
By the time he entered high school, Davis took sports more seriously. Perhaps it was fate. His football bloodlines ran deep.
His father played wide receiver at Missouri, and his older brother, David, as a defensive lineman at California and Washington State. The pedigree of his grandfather’s career, though, was unmatched among them. Willie Davis was a Hall of Fame defensive end who played on the Green Bay Packers’ first two Super Bowl-winning teams.
The experience at St. John Bosco High, a football powerhouse in Bellflower, ultimately strengthened him. The Braves’ roster was littered with college-bound talent, and Davis fit in.
“Every day in practice you were going against some of the best high school players in the country,” Duane Davis said.
Wyatt already had natural size — he surpassed a 160-pound weight limit that kept him from playing Pop Warner in seventh and eighth grade.
In picking the private high school, Davis saw a chance to develop into a top college prospect and began landing scholarship offers by the time he was a sophomore.
He hoped to end up at top programs such as Alabama and Ohio State. While thousands of miles away from southern California, they were annual playoff contenders that sent a variety of top offensive linemen into the NFL.
Duane saw it as a sign of his maturity when he settled on Ohio State, pursuing a high level of competition despite the long distance from his hometown. It mirrored the decision he made entering high school. Attending St. John Bosco required a one-way commute that could last an hour in traffic in the Los Angeles sprawl.
“He didn’t go where all his friends were going,” Duane said. “He chose to go somewhere that wasn’t close to home and he wasn’t going to know a lot of people when he got there.”
After winning a national championship in 2002, the Buckeyes had been one of the favorite teams for his older brother, and Davis soon picked up a similar appreciation for the program’s physical style of play, a draw for young linemen. It was enough of a lasting impression that he devoured former coach Jim Tressel’s book, “The Winners Manual.”
As Davis entered this fall as determined as ever in his playing career, and looking to avenge the sting of a postseason loss to Clemson from 11 months ago, some of the lessons from his late grandfather have rattled in his mind.
Willie Davis, who died at age 85 in April, often reminded him that he had to love football if he wanted to be successful in his playing career.
It’s advice that Wyatt has appreciated the longer he has played the sport, fueling him on the field and in workouts.
“In my generation, you’ll have a lot of people that will say that they want to play football, but they don’t really love it,” Davis said. “They don’t really love the grind that goes into it, all the stuff that’s behind the scenes and all the extra hard work that goes into even playing football, all the offseason work, stuff like that.”
As he prepared for this season, his focus became as clear as ever before.