By Stephen R. Farris
Special to the NavCo Chronicle
It’s not everyday you get to spend a few moments with former Texas High School Football athletes, especially when you’re part of an elite group that is recognized and honored by the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
That was exactly the case for former Wortham Bulldog, and professional football player Leonard Davis. This past Saturday, May 6, 2023, Davis was one of nine individuals inducted into the THSFHoF. Joining Davis were former Texas HS football greats John Henry (Lorena HS), Coach Dennis Alexander (No. 7 winningest Texas HS coach), Coach Tom Kimbrough (Plano HS), Bobby Wuensch (Houston Jones HS), Bert Clark (Wichita Falls HS), Patrick Rockett (San Antonio Lee HS), Matthew Stafford (Highland Park HS), and Dr. Jesse Delee (San Antonio).
Davis grew up in the small town of Wortham, located about 10 miles from Mexia in nearby Limestone County. He came from a large family, but soon became head above shoulders taller and bigger than his classmates, and even upperclassmen before eventually settling into his 6’6” 350 lb. frame, that was perfectly fit for an offensive or defensive lineman.
In high school, Davis helped lead the then Class 1A Wortham Bulldogs football team to the second round of the Texas HS football playoffs his senior year, and was pretty much the leading force in Wortham’s Class 1A State HS Basketball Championship in the winter of 1997.
His talent earned him All-American honors in football, which led to a scholarship to the University of Texas, where he continued to find success on the football field. During his time as a Longhorn, Davis played offensive tackle, blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, and UT great, Hodges Mitchell.
His success at UT earned him All-Big 12 honors, and All-American honors, and he was an Outland Trophy nominee twice during his college career.
Davis entered the 2001 National Football League Draft, and was selected as the second overall pick, which happened to be in the possession of the Arizonia Cardinals, where he started his rookie season at right guard. He played with the Cardinals from 2001-06.
In the spring of 2007, he became an unrestricted free-agent and signed with his boyhood favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys. Davis’s career excelled with his childhood favorite team. During his tenure with the Cowboys, he earned three Pro-Bowl appearances and was an All-Pro selection his first year with the club.
In 2011, the organization went a different direction, releasing Davis prior to the start of the football season. He managed to sign a one-year contract with the Detroit Lions for the remainder of the season.
In 2012, he signed a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers as a backup. It was to be his last season in the NFL, but he was fortunate enough to be on a team that made it to the Super Bowl that year and he has the ring to show for it, even though the 49ers lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, in one of the most thrilling Super Bowl games in history.
After football, Davis dove into his musical interests by teaming up with a few of his former teammates to start a heavy metal band named Free Reign. Davis was the bassist for the group. The band has long disbanded, and Davis has returned to his football roots, coaching high school ball in Chandler, Ariz.
“It was something special,” said Davis, while being interviewed at the press conference held prior to the Hall of Fame event Saturday. “I always knew I had the ability to do something special. Just playing against guys at a higher level of competition, it was just a matter of opportunity that I would get to do that and make it happen.” Davis was referring to his time spent at Wortham HS, and playing football for the Bulldogs. Throughout his athletic career, Davis approached things with a blue-collar attitude, working hard at each level to improve.
In one of the evening’s humorous moments, Davis recalled – after being asked – the time he questioned whether he wanted to even play football, after a rough go of it one day while playing out in the yard with an older relative, Lamonte Chambers, who starred on the gridiron for Wortham, and was later the head football coach at Mexia High School.
Davis was a first-grader at the time, while Chambers was in his first year of middle school. The pair ventured into the front yard, as Davis remembered, him wearing a replica Steelers jersey, while Chambers had on a Cowboys jersey. It was a classic showdown in the eyes of the two youngsters. If you’ve never played one-on-one football out in your yard or in a vacant lot somewhere, you missed out. Basically, you throw the ball to your opponent and they try to score a touchdown while you try to stop them.
On this particular day – which also happened to be Christmas Day – Chambers got things going by throwing the ball to Davis. Chambers made the tackle on Davis, causing him some pain, which made the first-grader cry. This might have happened one or two more times as Davis tried to move the ball. At that point, Davis questioned himself about what he had gotten into with his older relative. He was like, this is painful. And for a kid that age, if you haven’t felt pain like that – according to his interview in the Waco Tribune-Herald – it feels like the worst pain you’ve ever felt up to that age.
Davis turned the ball over to Chambers, and Lamonte juked Davis and scored a touchdown. That was nearly the crushing blow for Davis’s early football career. If you know, you know, when you’re that age, something like that is like having the walls cave in around your heart.
However, that same day, Davis shrugged it aside and was back in the yard tossing the ball around to himself, pretending he was a star football player.
Little did he know at the time that he would be among the stars. Besides being inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday, Davis was also inducted into the University of Texas Hall of Honor in 2016. Davis isn’t the only “Davis” that has set foot on an NFL field. His half-brother, Charles, played professional ball as a defensive tackle from 1974 to 1980, playing for the Steelers during the team’s first Super Bowl Championship, then was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he played until 1979. He closed out his pro career with the Houston Oilers in 1980.
Big Leonard, as some folks nicknamed him growing up, will always be a huge part (no pun intended) of the Wortham community for years to come. Congrats to Leonard Davis on his induction into the 2023 Class of the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame!