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Intensity, determination are family tradition for Wyatt Davis

Wyatt Davis-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis is continuing a rich family legacy. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Intensity, determination are family tradition for Wyatt Davis

COLUMBUS — For those killing time during this Covid-19 stay-at-home era, here’s a recipe for an easy-to-prepare Ohio State video treat.

Google: Willie Davis, highlights, YouTube.

After watching whichever one is chosen, Google: Ohio State football highlights 2019. Train the eye on No. 52 Wyatt Davis, right guard.

Then kick back in retrospect as the blend washes through your mind. The intensity. The quickness. The size. The dash of tabasco-like heat at just the right moment.

Willie Davis played defensive end on one of the great teams in NFL history, the Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. That is, after first being traded by Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns for whom he’d played both ways in the late 1950s.

So comparing Willie Davis to his grandson Wyatt, who blossomed last season into one of the elite offensive linemen in the country, takes some imagination. But for the connoisseur, the vintage traits are right there in the blend.

Willie Davis-Green Bay Packers-Super Bowl

Green Bay Packers legend Willie Davis passed down strong genetics to Wyatt Davis. (Tony Tomsic/Imagn)

Wyatt Davis has seen a few of those Willie Davis highlights. Better yet, he was privileged to hear some of the stories as he grew up. Those are cherished memories now since his grandfather, who had been ill the past couple of years, passed away April 15 at age 85 in Santa Monica, Calif., due to kidney failure.

“All I can say is thank God I didn’t have to play against somebody like that to this point yet,” Wyatt Davis said this week. “But you know, my granddad and my dad, growing up playing football, they – I feel like the reason I have that fire is because of what they instilled in both me and my brother.

“It’s just don’t be complacent with where you’re at. Don’t be OK with just getting the job done. … It relates to the real world. If you’re just barely doing what you need to do to get by, then that’s how successful you’re going to be — you’re going to be barely doing enough to get by.”

His father Duane Davis had a promising football career cut short by a couple of knee injuries while playing at Missouri. Duane Davis moved into a successful acting career, and among the many roles he’s tackled was playing Buster Douglas in the HBO movie Tyson about the rise and fall of the former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the word.

As Wyatt pointed out, his father has an undeniable drive to excel, something Willie Davis instilled in them both.

Talk about walking the walk, Willie Davis was born in tiny Lisbon, La., and rose to football fame at Booker T. Washington High School on the Arkansas side of the stateline-straddling city of Texarkana. It was the 1950s, so like many of the great football players in the segregated south, he went to Grambling to play for the legendary Eddie Robinson.

(That’s stunning in its own right: Willie Davis’ primary coaches in his  career were Robinson, Brown and Lombardi.)

But Willie Davis was no instant hit in the pros, pick No. 181 in the 1956 NFL draft. Clearly Brown didn’t quite know what to do with him, except keep playing him.

Think about it, at one point early in his career, Willis Davis blocked for Jim Brown. A couple of years later, he was tackling him for the Packers, where he blossomed under Lombardi.

There’s also no doubt why Lombardi coveted the ferocious Davis. Wyatt Davis shows the same traits.

Wyatt Davis-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis prides himself on his work ethic. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“My granddad always told me, ‘Go 100 percent. Go above and beyond. Do what you need to do to be noticed,’” Wyatt Davis said. “And that competitive nature, I feel like, is what drives me to be so competitive.”

It drove his grandfather on and off the field. He was always working toward the future – he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago while he was playing for the Packers – and went on to become a highly successful businessman in southern California, which included sitting on numerous corporate boards and owning a string of radio stations.

“What a lot of people don’t know was my granddad was more successful and made more earnings outside of football than he was when he was playing,” Wyatt Davis said, acknowledging how impressive that feat was considering Willie Davis was a five-time All-Pro and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. “That type of work ethic is inspiring.”

But in any great football player, even the quarterbacks, there is a nasty side that must be harnessed from time to time to rise above the fray. Wyatt Davis has shown it, just as his grandfather did.

“As far as the physical nastiness, that’s the game of football,” he said. “Growing up [hearing] the war stories from my granddad saying, for instance, he wasn’t wearing a mouthpiece because they didn’t have to.

“And he sacked the quarterback [once] and he was telling me he had all of his front teeth knocked out and still continued to play the game.”

Willie Davis always answered the bell.

“And the fact that all the years he played [12 in the NFL], I think he might have missed one game,” Wyatt Davis said. “So just hearing that is toughness alone. I feel that’s what you have to have to play the game of football. You’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be physical, and you’ve got to be nasty.

“That’s what my granddad told me about playing the game, and that’s what I try to do.”
Willie Davis was a multi-generational inspiration. Congratulatory videos he sent to his grandson after games the past couple of years are mental keepsakes, since Wyatt considered him to be “like a second father to me.”
“He’s my idol,” Wyatt Davis said. “He’s what I want to be as a football player and as a businessman. To hear him congratulate me on anything I do made me feel above and beyond.”

Tim May

Tim May brings decades of experience to his work on the Ohio State beat. The award-winning journalist retired from his post at the Columbus Dispatch after the 2018 season but remains a fixture around the Buckeyes and continues to loom as an authority on the program.