8/17/99 Ralph Barrera/AA-S; Texas' offensive linemen Roger Roesler, left, and Leonard Davis, right, provide QB Major Applewhite with passing protection during a squad scrimmage at practice Tuesday morning. Roesler and Davis give the Horns experience on the line this year that coaches hope will translate into offensive success early. (Wangrin story)

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: A position change at Texas forever changed Leonard Davis’ life

Defensive lineman switched to offense in 1998, became a consensus All-American, future NFL Pro Bowler and now a member of UT Men's Hall of Honor

Posted October 13th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Leonard Davis, Aaron Ross, LaMarcus Aldridge part of 60th Men's Hall of Honor class.
  • Michelle Carter, gold medal winner in the shot put in Rio, part of Women's Hall of Honor.
  • Davis: “For me to be selected, my name among those, it’s an honor for me to be in that position.”

Big Leonard Davis has always been, well, big.

During his time at Texas, the 6-foot-6, 360-pound mountain of a man wore a 56 long jacket and once crowed about eating five breakfast sandwiches from Jack in the Box. That’d be 2,250 calories in one shot. Now, at age 38, that might kill him.

But all 19-year-old freshmen, even those with imposing size, have doubts. Fortunately, former Texas coach Mack Brown helped Davis make the position change that permanently altered Big Leonard’s whole life.

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This weekend, the former All-American and All-Pro is one of 13 inductees for the UT Men’s and Women’s Hall of Honor.  Davis is going in with standout cornerback Aaron Ross (2003-06) and men’s basketball star LaMarcus Aldridge (2004-06). All will be honored at various events, including prior to Saturday’s game against Iowa State.

In 1997, Texas had stolen Davis away from Texas A&M late in the recruiting process, and it was widely thought this was a can’t-miss defensive tackle for the ages. Davis was a two-way player at Wortham, but growing up, “You never dream about being an offensive lineman.”

Cowboys offensive tackle Leonard Davis laughs as he shares with reporters his experience following the Los Angeles-area earthquake that was felt at the NFL football team's training camp, Tuesday, July 29, 2008, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Cowboys offensive tackle Leonard Davis laughs as he shares with reporters his experience following the Los Angeles-area earthquake that was felt at the NFL football team’s training camp, Tuesday, July 29, 2008, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

“I think after my third game, that’s when I really realized in my mind that this ain’t really going to work for me,” Davis said Thursday. “My thing, I was just thinking, ‘OK, I’ll finish the season and give it my all and not whine or anything like that.’ This is the decision that I made personally, and when it’s all over I’ll do something else.”

Prior to spring drills in 1998, Davis didn’t have to say much to Brown. It was as if the head coach could read minds. “He asked me, ‘Hey, what do you want to play — offense or defense?’ Just like that,” Davis said. “I said offense. He said, ‘I’ll let (assistant coach Mike) Tolleson know, and that was it.”

No fuss, no muss. By the 2000 season, Davis was an established left tackle, a consensus All-American and soon to be the second overall pick of the 2001 NFL draft.

Davis played 12 years in the NFL, starting 155 of 171 games for Arizona, Dallas and San Francisco. He was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Now, Davis is back in Austin this weekend for something he never expected. Would Big Leonard even be here if not for that position change? Probably not, according to him.

“If I had kept playing defense, I probably would have been average,” Davis said. “In all honesty, I’m giving myself more credit. If I would have kept playing, I probably wouldn’t have even been average.”

Defensive players need a certain twitch to get out of their stance after the snap, something Davis believes he didn’t have. But he was so big, “they couldn’t block me or move me out of there,” he said.

Initially, he played right tackle but struggled with his mechanics. One random practice, as Davis recalled, offensive line coach Tim Nunez said he wanted to see Davis at left tackle.

“Once I went over there, it felt like I’d been playing over there my whole life,” Davis said.

Davis’ right leg was stronger than his left, and all those days of throwing the shot in high school finally paid off.

With Davis and his teammates paving the way, Texas running back Hodges Mitchell ran for 1,343 yards in 1999 and 1,118 yards in 2000. That was a time when 1,000-yard rushers were the norm in Austin. Cedric Benson had four straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2001-04.

Three key members of the 2006 Texas national championship team's offensive line were Leonard Davis (70), Antwon Kirk-Hughes (77) and Mike WIlliams (63). (STAFF ILLUSTRATION BY JOE STAFFORD/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Three key members of the Texas offensive line were Leonard Davis (70), Antwon Kirk-Hughes (77) and Mike WIlliams (63). (STAFF ILLUSTRATION BY JOE STAFFORD/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Jamaal Charles was UT’s last 1,000-yard rusher in 2007. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since Tony Hills went in the fourth round in 2008. Coincidence? D’Onta Foreman is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. He currently ranks second nationally in rushing yards per game (148.8).

Current left tackle Connor Williams has a chance to play on Sundays, as does guard Patrick Vahe. The key to a long NFL career, Davis said, is having the right mindset. Those type of players with the right attitude can play for a decade or more, like he did. In case you haven’t noticed, NFL owners fall all over themselves giving talented left tackles lots of money.

“They go out with a mindset like, ‘Hey, I don’t care if I’ve got 20-inch arms, I’m still going to block this all-pro, all-world lineman,’” Davis said.

During his NFL days, Davis said it was hard to keep up with the Longhorns. Things change in retirement, if that’s indeed what 38-year-olds call it.

Davis and his wife, Amanda, and their two girls live in Phoenix. What’s funny is that a friend actually invited the family to come visit Austin during Iowa State weekend. Then a week or so later, Davis got the call about the Hall of Honor, the highest individual award given by the UT athletic department.

“For me, it does mean a lot just because it was kind of those deals where your name is being mentioned with some of the elite athletes that have been here and made an impact,” Davis said. “For me to be selected, my name among those, it’s an honor for me to be in that position.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

TEXAS MEN’S HALL OF HONOR INDUCTEES

LaMarcus Aldridge (basketball, 2004-06): Big 12 defensive player of the year who led UT to the Elite Eight in 2006.

John Bianco (media relations, 1992-present): Oversees the entire media relations department, handles all publicity for UT football.

Jimmy Blacklock (basketball, 1971-72): First black starter and first black letterman for the UT men’s basketball program.

Leonard Davis (football, 1997-2000): Consensus All-American left tackle in 2000 and Outland Trophy finalist.

Davis Love, Jr. (golf, 1953-55): Two-year letterman and member of the 1954 Southwest Conference championship team.

Walter L. “Buddy” New, Jr. (baseball, 1961-63): Helped the Horns reach two College World Series and later contributed to the remodeling of UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Aaron Peirsol (swimming, 2003-06): Five-time Olympic gold medalist, current world record holder in the 200-meter backstroke.

Aaron Ross (football, 2003-06): Winner of the 2006 Thorpe Award and key contributor on the Longhorns’ 2005 national championship team.

TEXAS WOMEN’S HALL OF HONOR INDUCTEES

Edna Campbell (basketball, 1989-91): Two-time all-SWC selection who led Longhorns to the Elite Eight in 1990. Tenth overall pick of 1999 WNBA draft.

Michelle Carter (track and field, 2004-07): Three-time Olympian and 2016 gold medalist at the Rio Olympics in the shot put.

Andrea Hayes (swimming, 1986-90): Member of the 1988 Olympic swim team and 16-time All-American who helped UT win three national titles.

Lucie Ludvigova Schmidhauser (tennis, 1993-95): Two-time All-American and 1994 SWC player of the year. Helped UT win 1995 NCAA title.

Terri Turner (track and field, 1983-86): Two-time NCAA triple jump champion, former world record holder and 12-time All-American.

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