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Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM PRESEASON 2022 35 get out of bed for those early morning workouts, especially once the infamous permacloud arrived. The waters? Uncharted. The losses? Piling up. The desire to keep playing a sport he once dreamed of making into a career? Hard to maintain. The joy was gone. Everything was weighing on him, and it all came crashing down in early 2019. "I had a breakdown at the end of spring ball that defensive year," Davis said. "I broke down in my car. I shed some tears, and I was just yelling [out of] frustration." At this point, Davis debated everything. Everything. Leaving Notre Dame was technically an option, but he didn't want to go down that road. Davis grew up in a community where people only dreamed of earning a degree from Notre Dame. He was already in the metaphorical door. He wasn't going to throw it away. A mental change was needed. It ar- rived at the perfect time. "Something just came over me," Davis said. "[I realized] to just control what you can control. I thought about every- thing that I went through. I thought, 'What am I doing wrong?' "I would go into certain situations tentative or hesitant. So I was like 'Al- right, what am I hesitant about?' I'm hesitant because I don't want to lose. What was on my mind the whole time was losing. That was the only thing I was thinking about. "By not having confidence in myself, I'm giving that to other people, my op- ponent, whoever is lined up against me in this rep, I'm giving him more power, and he doesn't even know." The lack of failure during his middle and high school years seemed to be a blessing at the time. Now, it was the cause of severe angst and self-questioning. Da- vis had recognized the root of the problem and was determined to address it. "Once I analyzed that, I was like, 'Let me stop giving power to things I can't control, [like] what a defensive back is going to do to stop me, to an extent,'" Davis said. "I can control what I'm about to give him on this route, what look, how well I'm going to get in and out of this break." Davis took the new mindset back to practice, determined as ever to make things work. Slowly but surely, he progressed. "Once you start [doing well], that false confidence turns into, 'Oh, I'm re- ally good. I really can win. This works. This doesn't work, but I'm OK with tak- ing this [loss] because I see what I did wrong, but I also see how he reacted when I went this way or did this move,'" Davis said. "So the biggest change was perspective. Losses are going to happen. Losses are inevitable. I had to learn that, experience that, go through and live it to really put it in perspective for myself. "I really had to get knocked down and figure out how I was going to get back up. Getting back up wasn't a question. I'm getting back up. But it took a break- down. I had to hit bottom." UNTHINKABLE SETBACKS Davis would be knocked down once again in 2021, just as things were starting to turn around. After 27 catches for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns, he tore his ACL, on a seemingly routine step, in the game against Navy on Nov. 6. There wasn't an unnatural cut or hit. The captain was merely blocking for Irish running back Kyren Williams on the play. Add another career interruption to the list. Once again, Davis didn't walk away. Last season was his fifth year of college football, but he elected to return for a sixth. He loved what Freeman was doing with the program, and he wanted to go out on his own terms. Davis sat out spring practice, watch- ing and leading from the sideline. Fall camp started, and Davis was ready to make his NFL dreams a reality, even claiming his straight-line speed was faster than ever. "I could sit here all day and talk about Avery," offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. "He's been here six years. He's played five positions. He's made some plays at absolutely critical mo- ments. He gets hurt. He's back ready to go for his teammates. Every time that we need a spark, a play or somebody to do their job the right way, big or small, doesn't matter, he's always stepped up. "We've had a lot of guys that garner respect over my last five and a half years here. He might garner as much respect as any player in that locker room that I've seen." Then the second ACL tear occurred. Different knee. Same crushing MRI result. "In one word, devastating," gradu- ate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy said of hearing the news. "Seeing that happen to someone who's gone through so much, is so well-loved, respected and such a hard worker is very deflating." "I don't know if it has sunk in yet that he's not going to be on the field with us for Game 1," sophomore wideout Lo- renzo Styles added. "That hurts." 'WE'RE PLAYING FOR HIM LIKE WE'RE GOING TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP' Pity was, and probably remains, war- ranted. Without Davis, Notre Dame has just seven scholarship wide receivers on the roster heading into 2022, including graduate student Joe Wilkins Jr. (com- ing off a foot injury), graduate student Matt Salerno (a former walk-on) and true freshman Tobias Merriweather. But Davis wouldn't want a melan- choly cloud hovering over the program. Old Davis might have allowed it. New Davis wants just the opposite. His team- mates will gladly honor that request. "I think there's a sense that we have to pick up what he started for us, his mentality and how he goes about his day-to-day work," Lenzy said. "We're kind of trying to play for him and move the way he moves by example." Styles and Davis are both best in the slot. Now, that's purely Styles' role. He's ready. "Avery wouldn't want us to feel sorry for him," Styles said. "Avery would want us to keep pressing forward. He'd want us to have a great season. That really added fuel for me, fuel to the fire." Davis isn't going anywhere any time soon. He's going to be there every step of the way. Wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey will make sure of it. "We're playing for him like we're go- ing to win a championship," Stuckey said. "He's part of that. He's been part of this whole thing, so it's just trying to get the guys to make sure that he's still included. That's part of my job, too — make sure he's there as another coach, motivating the guys." When Davis was on Ajavon's pod- cast prior to his injury, he said his goal was to leave a lasting impact on Notre Dame football. The stat sheet might not include Davis this year, but that goal is still very much in play, whether he's suiting up or not. ✦

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