CHARLOTTE - Twice, linebacker Thomas Davis has steadfastly worked his way back from a major knee injury, only to have the knee fail him both times.
While Davis counts himself among those wondering if he can possibly bounce back a third time, he refuses to consider failure an option.
"I don't really know what the future holds for me as far as how my knee will respond to a third surgery, but I'm super-excited about the possibilities," Davis said. "I've never been a person to quit or walk away from anything. I feel like there's still an opportunity for me."
Davis originally tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee two years ago this week, and since the initial injury he's played in just two games.
He hurt the knee on Nov. 8, 2009, during a game at the New Orleans Saints. He appeared well on his way to returning for the 2010 season when, during an organized team activity on June 8, 2010, he suffered the same fate.
Davis made a triumphant return this season to his starting role, but in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, he injured the knee yet again.
This time, Davis briefly held out hope that the injury wasn't serious, but by the time he awakened on the morning of Sept. 19 for the all-telling MRI, he knew.
"It felt different because I had a brace on and because it was a contact injury, unlike the first two. I even went back into the game," Davis said. "But before I got the MRI done, I kind of figured it. I knew some of the areas that would be indicators, and I had some of those issues going on when I woke up the next day. When I came in, I told (head athletic trainer) Ryan (Vermillion), 'It's torn.'"
When Davis got the official word that he had feared, it would have been easy for him to give up. But rather than feeling sorry for himself, Davis feels like it's just another challenge for him to tackle.
"It's another setback, but I feel like it's just another test for me that's going to make me a stronger person," he said. "And man, I'm feeling great right now. The rehab is going great. If you ask me, I'd say I'm ahead of schedule – I'm going to always say that.
"I'm going to work my butt off to do everything in my power to get back to playing football."
Davis' determination hasn't gone unnoticed.
"I see somebody that's got a tremendous amount of faith and strength, and I'm impressed by it," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "He and I have had a couple of great conversations the last few days, and just listening to him talk about his drive and what motivates him and what keeps him focused, that's impressive. I think it spills over to people around him. That's why it's great to have a guy like him here."
Davis isn't alone in his effort.
A week before Davis' injury, fellow linebacker Jon Beason suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Once the duo gained mobility following their surgeries, they've been inseparable and unstoppable.
"Me and Jon Beason are in this together, and now we just picked up Thomas Williams," Davis said, referring to their fellow linebacker who joined them on injured reserve Tuesday with a neck injury. "We're in here competing. There are some things we're not able to do this early in our rehab, but everything that we can possibly do, we're doing.
"We've got a good little group, but we definitely don't want this group to get any bigger."
With the addition of Williams, the Panthers now have 11 players on IR. That's certainly not what Rivera wants, though he is getting the response from the group that he wants.
"I've been on teams where guys go on IR and just disappear, but not these guys," Rivera said. "You walk in there and see those guys talking to their teammates, encouraging their teammates. It really is a neat thing.
"It kind of speaks to our situation, but anywhere from six to 10 guys on IR will be in here at the same time. Their teammates see them and visit with them. I think that's important."
Beason, dealing with a serious injury for the first time in his NFL career, marvels at how Davis has handled adversity time and time again.
Beason also believes that Davis' determination will be rewarded.
"He's in good spirits about coming back," Beason said. "I think he still has something to offer. We all know he'll come back and run a 4.42 again."