Noie: Notre Dame WR Avery Davis deserved to write his own ending in his own way
It probably wasn’t anything too serious.
That was the first thought standing outside the Irish Athletic Center on Friday while waiting for Notre Dame football to finish practice No. 7. As we waited, we noticed a player off to our right walking slowly toward the Guglielmino Center.
It was wide receiver Avery Davis, who had suffered a torn anterior cruciate in his left knee late last season at home against Navy. Davis was simply heading up the field to help block on a Kyren Williams touchdown run when he felt the knee give, and then go and then knew right away something was wrong.
“I knew it had to be something significant,” Davis said in the spring about his initial reaction. “Then my emotions, man, made me get a little emotional.”
The way Davis walked Friday – no noticeable limp, no assistance needed, no real sign that anything really was wrong, the thinking was that the sixth-year guy from Cedar Hill, Texas was just leaving a late-week practice a few minutes early to get some additional treatment on the left knee so that he could continue on his path of being ready for the 2022 season opener at Ohio State.
So, yeah, it probably wasn’t anything serious.
It was serious.
On Saturday at 8 a.m., word arrived from Notre Dame public relations account on Twitter that Davis had suffered another anterior cruciate ligament injury — this time, to his right knee. Davis will miss the season and, in all likelihood, end his comeback and his college career.
Ugh. Just ... ugh.
Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday that Davis was hurt running a jet sweep. He planted his foot and then went down. The injury didn't appear to be serious, until the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test came back late Friday.
"Just devastating for the kid," Freeman said. "What do you say to a kid at that moment? I want him to know he's important to the program (but) losing Avery Davis is a huge blow."
You knew news like this was standing somewhere in the preseason camp shadows. It sits and waits and then surfaces without warning for someone on almost every college football team — somewhere along the line, someone of consequence suffers a serious/season-ending injury. Happened last year for Notre Dame when linebacker Marist Liufau cracked his ankle and was lost for all of 2021. But every day the Tribune took unofficial role call by watching the players walk from the Gug and across Courtney Lane to the IAC, almost everyone who was anyone was accounted for. That meant a quiet win for the Irish, for their fans, for this season.
Then, Saturday. The first "L" of preseason. A big one.
Davis admitted when he met the media in the spring that he already felt like an old man as a sixth-year guy. No reason to think he’d stick around for a seventh, not after two serious knee injuries, and not wanting to delay the next phase of his football career — whatever that may entail — and his life just for one more chance.
The Davis news hit like a gut punch before breakfast. If you know the guy, if you know his story, if you know how hard he had attacked that difficult rehabilitation to get back on the field, you hurt almost as much as Davis hurts today.
The media doesn’t root for Notre Dame to win or lose (really, we don’t). What we do root for is a good story, and Davis had the chance of being a really good one this season. Already was a fascinating one. A guy who played five different positions in his college career, a guy who came to South Bend with plans of being a quarterback, a guy who grew into one of the most respected voices in the locker room, a guy that everyone had no choice but to listen to.
He spoke with wisdom and knowledge and experience and, yeah, shut up back there and listen to him. He’d done a lot, but he’d seen a lot more.
"You're not going to find a guy more respected than Avery Davis," Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said Saturday. "All we can do right now is love AD."
Davis had plans to do more in 2022 and who was going to tell him any differently? Even before the news about Davis, there were questions and concerns about the wide receiver position, but you figured that someway, No. 3 was going to be back in the lineup and he was going to make everything OK. He’d add to depth that already felt razor-thin. He'd get the young guys to grow up and carry themselves like old guys. He’d be the one that would make sure everything is all right. He'd make plays. He'd make it all right.
Now, with Saturday’s news, nothing is about the future of the position in the short term and certainly with Davis, who faces another Hamster wheel of waiting for swelling to subside, then surgery, then more intense rehab. More doubts, more frustration.
What Davis probably won’t do is wonder, why me? He had that chance last season, his best in an Irish uniform when he caught 27 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns. He made plays. He made the guys around him better.
“It’s the best I felt playing receiver, the best I felt honestly, playing football since I got here,” Davis said of spring of where his career was before the injury.
After he got hurt last fall without any contact, Davis rarely looked in the mirror and felt sorry for himself. He wanted to, but what good would that do? So, he worked overtime to shed first, a scooter that he motored around campus in and then, crutches. Man, he HATED those crutches, and what they came to represent — an injured player, a player you couldn’t rely on because he couldn’t play, a player who MAYBE would make it back from a serious injury.
“The crutches, he admitted in spring, “are a little bit demoralizing.”
But Davis did it. He did all of it. Shed the scooter, tossed aside the crutches, kept himself on the path of playing right out of the gate at Ohio State. His value to the offense, to the entire team, continued to go up and up and up. Somewhere along the way between now and the first Saturday night in September over in Ohio, head coach Marcus Freeman was going to name team captains.
Surely, Davis's name was going to be included in that list. It still may, but anything Davis offers this fall will be from the sideline, not in the middle of the field or down the field or in the end zone.
We don’t have any idea what the coming weeks and months hold for this Irish football team. Are they going to win a lot? Lose a few? Nobody knows, but know this — Avery Davis deserved to write his own ending, deserved to go out on his terms, deserved better than the news that hit social media on a cool and cloudy Saturday morning.
He worked so hard for a chance that he'll never get, and that really sucks.