KD Davis was rendered speechless earlier this fall when North Texas director of sports medicine Jeff Smith called to deliver the news that altered the course of his season.
Davis had tested positive for the coronavirus just hours before the Mean Green were set to take on Dallas-area rival SMU.
“I didn’t know what to do or how to feel,” Davis said. “I was speechless. My feelings were hurt.”
UNT depends on Davis for the playmaking abilities that have helped him rack up 127 tackles in his career. The junior’s leadership has been just as important during a season that hasn’t gone nearly as the Mean Green had planned, largely due to the pandemic.
Players have been in and out of the lineup due to coronavirus infections and contact tracing. Two of UNT’s games have been canceled while two others have been pushed back to December.
The Mean Green (2-3, 1-2 Conference USA) will have gone 27 days without playing by the time they kick off their game at UAB (4-3, 2-1) on Saturday.
Those obstacles have made leadership from veteran players even more important. Davis has helped fill the void while dealing with his own challenges.
The former Ennis standout’s positive coronavirus result turned out to be a false positive. By the time UNT’s team doctors cleared him to return to practice, he’d spent eight days in isolation and missed the Mean Green’s loss to SMU.
Davis learned from the experience and has helped UNT handle challenges presented by the pandemic that have dogged the program throughout the year.
“Going through all of this adversity is making me a better man and a better teammate on and off the field,” Davis said. “You know coming in every day that you have to do the right things, have a backup plan, work around problems and see the positive instead of being negative about situations.”
That’s exactly the approach UNT coach Seth Littrell has emphasized during the Mean Green’s extended hiatus.
“It can get frustrating to put in a lot of work into preparing and getting ready for a game when that game doesn’t come,” Littrell said. “It’s just part of it, and our guys have been great about it. They’ve continued to have great attitudes and work extremely hard.”
For a while, Davis had to find another avenue to remain in game shape. He worked out at home with the equipment he had available. At night, he’d go out and run alone.
Davis also sent text messages to UNT’s other linebackers and participated in Zoom calls.
“I did everything I could to make sure that when I came back, I’d be the same KD,” Davis said.
He hasn’t missed a beat.
Davis finished with 14 tackles in a loss to Southern Miss on Oct. 3, his first game back after sitting out UNT’s game against SMU. He leads the Mean Green with 34 stops, despite missing their loss to SMU and being knocked out in the early stages of a loss to Charlotte on Oct. 10 due to injury. Davis didn’t post a tackle before leaving UNT’s loss to the 49ers and has essentially played just three games.
“KD brings a lot of energy, plays extremely hard, has a high motor and brings a toughness to our defense,” Littrell said. “He’s becoming a really solid leader.”
Setting the tone for UNT’s defense is a challenge Davis takes seriously, especially in a year the Mean Green have had to adapt on the fly. UNT didn’t announce that its game against Louisiana Tech last Saturday was postponed until two days before it was scheduled to kick off.
“It’s difficult on everyone,” Littrell said. “You only get so many opportunities in college football during your time at a university. Any time those opportunities are not there, it gets frustrating.”
Davis is one of the veterans his teammates have turned to for guidance as they deal with trying times.
“KD is a captain for a reason,” senior defensive tackle Dion Novil said. “He’s an amazing leader and isn’t afraid to hold people accountable. That’s something not a lot of people are comfortable with doing, but he is.”
There was nothing more uncomfortable for Davis than being told he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I wanted everyone to be able to play against SMU, but missing the game was something I had to go through,” Davis said. “I couldn’t be mad. I had to stay home, stay healthy, keep working out and do whatever I could so that I would be ready to come back for the Southern Miss game.”
Having Davis back in the lineup has helped UNT’s defense. The unit has struggled for most of the season while allowing 44.2 points per game but appeared to turn a corner with a solid second half in a 52-35 win over Middle Tennessee on Oct. 17.
The Mean Green surrendered just seven points after halftime against the Blue Raiders, a performance Davis helped spark by posting 11 tackles.
UNT hasn’t played since because its games against UTEP and Louisiana Tech were postponed.
Dealing with the extended break hasn’t been easy for UNT’s players. Fortunately, they’ve had a few veterans to lean on, including Davis, who is passing on the lessons he learned during his own trying times due to a false-positive test.
“It was just a little adversity for KD that opened his eyes,” wide receiver Jaelon Darden said. “It showed him what he’s capable of and how he can help us.”
The biggest of those lessons is to keep moving forward even when times get tough.
“You just have to stay ready,” Davis said. “You can’t let anything bring you down.”