Thomas Davis (right) with Georgia head coach Mark Richt. (Photo by John Kelley)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - For years, Thomas Davis endured the good-natured ribbing.
This year, he decided to do something about it.
"Having to hear my wife bragging about her degree - that's one thing she had on me," Davis said. "I told her that I might not have a degree but I had a pretty good job that was earning a lot for our house."
Now Davis, a linebacker entering his seventh season with the Panthers, can say he has it all: He's getting paid better than the large majority of college graduates…and he is a college graduate.
Davis got permission to miss Fan Fest on Saturday so he could receive his degree in housing and consumer economics from the University of Georgia. His wife, Kelly – a Winthrop University graduate – was in attendance, as were his children.
"For most people, their kids don't get to see them do that, so it was great for my kids to actually be there," Davis said. "Now our kids can look at both of our degrees sitting there, and that can be extra motivation for them."
Davis has a history of not giving up – both on and off the football field.
Photo by John Kelley
He entered the NFL draft following his junior year at Georgia and was selected in the first round by Carolina in 2005. Since becoming a starter in 2006, he had started 53 out of a possible 56 games before, on Nov. 8, 2009, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Davis seemed on schedule for a surprisingly quick return when, last June during an organized team activity, he blew out the knee again.
This past Thursday, Davis took part in a team practice for the first time in nearly 21 months.
"To get back out there and move around like I'm able to move now and just being back out there with my teammates, it's a great feeling," said Davis, adding that he made it through the difficult times by "putting my hands together and praying to God."
"When you face trials and tribulations, you're either going to adapt to it and overcome it, or you're going to sit down and let it swallow you," Davis continued. "I didn't sit around and act sad about it. I worked as hard as I could to get back to form and try to be even better than I was before."
Davis had recovered enough near the end of last season to possibly return to football action, putting him in position to take advantage of the NFL's work stoppage and take the three business classes that stood between him and graduation.
"The biggest thing was when they called our section and we were able to stand up and turn the tassel," Davis said. "It's been a long time. I've been out of school going on seven years now. For me to be able to get this accomplished and become a graduate at the school where I started, it's a tremendous experience."
Now, with degree in hand, Davis is ready to again give it the old college try on the football field.
"This defense is going to be extremely exciting. It's going to give a whole bunch of guys opportunities to make plays on this defense," Davis said. "I think the sky is really the limit. We've had a lot of key guys come in on offense and on defense, so we're definitely looking forward to putting it all together and lining up against somebody else to see what we really look like."