Getting Back Up: The Jordan Davis Comeback Story
Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2022
STARKVILLE – In football and in life, Jordan Davis prides himself on getting back up. So, when the Mississippi State defensive end found himself on the ground after his knee had bent awkwardly during a preseason scrimmage last August, he knew pretty quickly he might be in trouble.
“All I remember to this day was hearing one of my teammates yelling, ‘Get up JD! Get up!'” Davis recalled. “All I remember telling him is, ‘I can’t.’ That’s the one thing that’s been memorable this whole time. Saying, ‘I can’t. I can’t get up.'”
It’s a word Davis says he wants nowhere in his vocabulary. But in the moment, it was necessary. It was true. Still, he had some hope there wasn’t much to this situation.
“I didn’t feel anything too concerning,” Davis said. “I just went flat to the ground. Once I finally got up, I started feeling the swelling and stuff when I was in the training room. I was like, ‘Wow. I hope this isn’t anything bad.”
Unfortunately, it was. Shortly afterwards, Davis got word he’d suffered a season-ending injury. The news devastated Davis, who’d been on the verge of being a starter and key piece of the Bulldog defense. In an instant, that was gone.
“It really traumatized me,” Davis admitted. “I’d worked so hard. It was the fact I’d worked so hard, earned every down I got to play on that field.”
Davis picked up the phone and dialed up his mother, Tiffany Harmon, to tell her the news.
“I remember the call when I got it,” Harmon said. “I think that was one of the most traumatic things ever for me. He called me and he was sobbing, in tears.”
Like mothers do, Harmon comforted her son. These two (as well as Davis’ younger brother, Jaylen) had been through so much in their lives together. They’d all overcome obstacle after obstacle. Now here they were – here Davis was – staring at yet another trial.
Davis had a choice. After a lifetime of tribulation, he could let this most recent setback be the thing that finally kept him down. Or he could do what he’s done his whole life and get back up.
The fact is, in the grand scheme of Davis’ life, what happened last year in preseason camp isn’t tops on the list when it comes to challenges he’s dealt with. It’s not really even close.
As a small child, Davis and his mother and brother fell on very hard times. Their living situation was unsteady as the family bounced around from place to place. They spent time at a shelter and even had to sleep in the car at one point.
In a perfect world, Harmon could’ve shielded her kids from it all. But as their situation displayed, this isn’t a perfect world.
“When you’re a single parent, you can’t dismiss your child from going through the journey,” Harmon said. “They’re going through the journey with you.”
All the while, Davis’ little eyes were watching and learning from his mother. Davis was very small, but still, the powerful message being lived out by his mom was sticking in Davis’ brain. Harmon’s refusal to be defined by her circumstances was being absorbed.
“My mom has always been my idol and been my soldier,” Davis said. “Seeing her going through these things and getting up out of there is what still pushes me.”
Harmon and her kids overcame their situation. They got up.
They eventually moved to Greenville, Mississippi, for a short time and it was there where Davis got his initial taste of the gridiron, playing flag football while he attended Susie P. Trigg Elementary School.
Soon after, the family landed in Memphis. In the Bluff City, Davis truly fell in love with football, but not without first dealing with a little more adversity.
“We had just recently moved, and Jordan was cutting up in school,” Harmon said. “It had to be third or fourth grade or somewhere in there. And I remember walking out of the elementary school. The teacher had called me and said they’d given him detention and he was being expelled. He was just cutting up. And I remember walking out of that school and seeing a pee-wee football team. We walked on that sidewalk, and I looked at him and he was pouting, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to put you in football.'”
Davis had no interest in playing – none at all. Harmon thought that made it the perfect punishment.
“I only say that because he was resisting at first,” Harmon said. “I didn’t know it was going to end up being a career. That punishment was the best punishment I could have ever done.”
Under head coach Randy Baines and defensive coordinator Herbert Byers with the Southeast Memphis Athletic Association (SEMAA) Tigers, Davis started discovering football was indeed for him. He’d turned his punishment into pleasure. Davis had once again gotten up.
When he grew up, he’d need to rely on his resiliency once more if he wanted to achieve his football dreams.
Hit fast-forward to the fall of 2017.
At this point, Davis is a senior football star at Southwind High School in Memphis. He was a consensus four-star prospect with FBS football in his sights. However, a speed bump entered his way.
Davis first had to make a stop through Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi. Now the junior college route has produced too many college football stars to count, but Davis admits that at first, he had no interest in playing at any level other than Division I.
“That was definitely a hard time,” Davis said. “It was so frustrating. Feeling like I was that dominating, future Power Five player everyone wanted to see, then boom, going to juco, it definitely struck me hard. I was in denial for a long time in juco. I remember my first day of juco, I was hollering out, ‘I don’t even belong here! I don’t belong here!’ All that denial, I had to channel that energy to something. Eventually, I had to tell myself, if you don’t want to be here, then work. If you know you don’t belong here, work. That’s what it turned into. All the anger, all the frustration, all the things about how I grew up, it changed me. It changed me into the man I started to become. I knew I wanted to be that dominating force. I knew I wanted to make a name for myself.”
Make a name for himself Davis did. By the time Davis’ career at Co-Lin wrapped up, he was rated as one of the nation’s top five junior college prospects by all major outlets. ESPN and 247Sports labeled Davis the top junior college defensive end.
Davis had committed to Mississippi State on July 5, 2019 – shortly before his second season at Co-Lin. On January 7 of 2020, Davis enrolled at MSU and was officially a Bulldog.
Davis had gone from frustrated to the FBS. He’d gotten up yet again.
Even before Davis’ injury came last August, there were a couple of potholes he had to get through in his early days at State.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out State’s spring practices in 2020, not allowing Davis the chance to immediately show what he could do. Still, his talent enabled him to see action when the season came around in the fall, though it wasn’t as much as he’d have liked.
“I asked [defensive line coach Jeff Phelps] when I wasn’t playing in that 2020 season, I was just like, ‘Why am I not playing Coach?'” Davis said. “He was like, ‘Until you learn the plays, I’m not going to put you in.’ It was like a challenge.”
By the time last fall’s preseason arrived, Davis was on the cusp of what many believed would be a breakout year. However, it stopped before it started when Davis found himself on the ground about three weeks before the season opener.
Again – sometimes figuratively, this time literally – Davis had been knocked off his feet. But the stage was set for him to rise once more if he could do it.
It didn’t take long for Davis to lock in on recovery. After the initial shock of the injury subsided, Davis’ comeback was full speed ahead.
Mississippi State’s training and strength staffs – and of course Davis himself – all began the grind to get Davis back on the football field for 2022. And you better believe Davis’ past had built him for the work required.
“Coming from what I’ve come from, I was ready,” Davis said.
Those around Davis say his work ethic through the whole process was unbelievable. Combine that with a group of trainers and strength coaches that are second to none and Davis was on his way back in a hurry.
Mississippi State tries to get its injured players back in the weight room as quickly and safely as possible. In the case of Davis, he only missed around a week of weight training. As soon as he had the green light, Davis was back after it and working his well leg as well as his upper body.
State’s training staff worked hand in hand with the strength staff. All the while, both parties made sure Davis wasn’t being pushed beyond what he could take. There was constant communication. If the training staff noticed something that could be aided by the strength coaches, that was shared and vice versa. Everyone’s work got Davis inching closer and closer to his return.
Day after day, Davis put in the work. Soon, he was back to training his full body for the season to come. He was able to ramp up his running. He’d perform movements that closely mimicked his style of play. This progression continued all the way up to the point Davis was ready for real-life football once again.
Davis sings the praises of head athletic trainer Thomas Callans, head strength coach Tyson Brown, assistant strength coach Dan Kistler, Jr. and the entire Bulldog strength and training staffs for the jobs they did rebuilding him and getting him where he needs to be.
“The strength staff and the whole Mississippi State staff literally was always there for me,” Davis said. “When I say the whole staff, I mean the whole staff. People always say, ‘We’re a family place’, but you have to understand the meaning behind that. It’s like that because here, people take their time with you. They will have that one-on-one with you. Coach Dan [Kistler] was big time. I really appreciate him being in the weight room. He’s the reason I’m 270 pounds now. He put me in the form of mindset like, ‘We need you to be the freak of nature. You’ve got to come back bigger, stronger and faster.’ You’ve got to understand, him and coach Tyson [Brown], all the strength coaches were always saying, ‘This setback isn’t doing anything but opening a bigger door for you.’ The fact that I had coach [Jeff] Phelps in there and Mr. Thomas [Callans] – Tom Cat, that’s my Dawg. He definitely helped me get the confidence back. Day in, day out, I was always in treatment. Even days I was tired, he still had me in there. The fact they had me in there and had me doing all these things and now I can feel like I do out there on the field now and feel so confident, I really appreciate them.”
Davis was cautious over training camp and in the lead up to the season. However, he’s feeling great and he’s good to go for the year ahead.
“I definitely feel 100 percent confident about my health,” Davis said. “At practice, I’m running around and stuff. It’s just the fact of being careful now. It really traumatized me last fall camp that I hurt myself. I really just wanted to get through this fall camp so I can show people who I am. Most definitely, everything feels good. Everything is going well. I’m definitely mobile. Everything.”
He’s done it. Davis – yet again – has gotten back up.
Emotions will run high when Davis gets back on the field on Saturday. Davis will be overjoyed.
“It’s going to feel great,” Davis said. “More than just great. It’s going to be a blessing.”
It’s probably Harmon who sums it all up the best though. Don’t mothers always know what to say?
“My heart tightens just to think about him being back out there,” Harmon said of her son’s return. “I’m going to be very happy seeing him back on the field doing what he loves to do. He’s had a journey.”
He certainly has. It’s been a rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs. And one more time, when down, Jordan Davis refused to stay there.
“The fact all this has happened, it’s really unexplainable,” Davis said. “Going through it all, it was just adversity – nothing but adversity.”
The adversity slowed Davis down a time or two, but it certainly couldn’t stop him.
And this isn’t the end of Davis’ story. Oh, no. If he has it his way, there are more chapters to write. Those will start getting penned when Davis steps on the gridiron once again and hears the cowbells clanging in Davis Wade Stadium this weekend.
“I know people see me, but I want people to feel me,” Davis said. “I respect that the fans love me and all, but I always tell myself, ‘I haven’t done anything on the field yet.’ People haven’t really seen me on Saturdays yet making consistent plays and sack after sack after sack. People base things off of what they think I can do or what they hear. I don’t want people to just hear about me. I want them to feel what I’m saying and all that I’ve worked for. I really want kids to see me and feel that, just because you grew up in a hard lifestyle or faced hard times, that doesn’t mean that has to be you. It doesn’t have to be you at all. It’s all about how you do your thing and how you progress from it.”