MADISON TWP. — Ricky Davis didn’t have to wear a Madison High School football uniform to make it mean something to him.
He’s a former prep standout at Moeller and Fenwick who went on to play collegiately at Youngstown State. He’s also a Madison Township native who’s giving coaching a try at Madison, which is right down the street from his childhood home.
“I take a lot of pride in it. Being from this small town, I know it means a lot to us,” Davis said after Monday’s practice session, with the Mohawks (12-0) set to face Wheelersburg (11-1) for the Division V, Region 20 championship Saturday night at Hilliard Darby.
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“Madison’s been great. I love calling it my hometown,” he added. “I’ve got a good feeling about this. I think if the kids do what we ask them to do, we’ll end up in Canton.”
The Davis name has been a significant part of Madison football in recent years. Randy Davis is a 2015 graduate who played quarterback. Reid Davis is a 2018 graduate who played wide receiver and quarterback.
Ricky Davis chose a different path than his younger brothers, and while he’s a novice coach, Madison coach Steve Poff said he’s a natural for this line of work.
“I think the guy’s got a real passion for football and a passion for kids and just a desire to help,” Poff said. “I think for the staff, it was kind of a no-brainer. He’s already been a great benefit to our program.”
It’s a logical question to ask Davis why he didn’t attend MHS in the first place.
His answer: Madison’s current success wasn’t part of the equation back then, and Davis was a highly regarded quarterback who felt he needed to be in a more high-profile situation.
So he went to Moeller for three years, then transferred to Fenwick as a senior and directed the Falcons to their first playoff berth in eight years. His 16 touchdown passes represented a single-season school record that stood until Sully Janeck threw 18 this year.
“My whole life Madison had been average … now we’re a powerhouse,” Davis said. “Had they been like this back then, I’d have been here no doubt. But at the time, I was a guy that kind of knew I was going to get recruited and wanted to go to a bigger program.”
Davis had a number of collegiate offers coming out of high school and thought he would end up playing for Derek Dooley at Tennessee. Dooley came to Madison Township twice to visit Davis.
“I visited Knoxville five or six times and thought I was the guy,” Davis said. “They ended up obviously going with someone else. The way quarterback recruiting works is they take one per class and you’ve got to commit pretty early, so I waited too long.
“When it was all said and done and I was ready to commit, I had Army — which my mom wouldn’t even let me visit because she didn’t want me going in the Army — and UMass and YSU and a couple other (Mid-American Conference) programs. I’m glad I chose YSU. It all worked out.”
Davis was a four-year letterman in Youngstown, throwing for 1,532 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 803 yards and nine TDs. On Nov. 4, 2017, he collected a school-record 447 offensive yards (349 passing, 98 rushing) in a 66-24 win at Indiana State.
His best season was his junior year in 2016. He completed 55-of-106 passes for 864 yards and five touchdowns and ran 83 times for 340 yards in the first half of the season. A concussion then made him a spectator the rest of the way.
Under the direction of Bo Pelini, the Penguins advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game in Frisco, Texas, where they lost 28-14 to James Madison.
“It was my second concussion, so they told me I wasn’t allowed to come back that year,” Davis said. “Just to be able to put them in a position to get to the national championship game was exciting. It’s hard as a starting quarterback having to watch from the sideline, but I learned a lot about myself through that process. You learn from dealing with adversity.”
He graduated from YSU last December with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in business.
“My college career was awesome. I don’t regret it at all,” Davis said. “I set some records, went to the national championship and met so many great guys. I’ve got a lot of friends in the NFL. It was amazing, and I miss it every day.”
He threw for a couple NFL teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, as an undrafted free agent, but it didn’t lead to an extension of his playing career. So he went to Texas and took a medical sales job with Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics in Dallas.
What Davis discovered was that selling knee and hip replacements and constantly watching surgery wasn’t really for him. He lasted less than a year in Texas and moved back to this area about five weeks ago.
“It was great money, but you’re kind of selling your life away for money, and I wasn’t about it,” Davis said. “I’d wake up early in the morning and get home real late at night, and I just didn’t have a life. I missed my family. I missed my friends. And I wanted to get back around football.”
Said Poff, “He shot me a text message. It basically said, ‘Coach Poff, this is Ricky Davis. I’m moving back from Dallas in a couple weeks and I’m interested in helping out. I don’t want anything for it, but I’d like to help out.’ ”
Poff discussed it with his coaches. It would’ve been a reasonable thing to hesitate with such a move. Why inject late-season change into a team with state championship aspirations? But Poff decided that adding Davis was a good thing.
“I started working with Mason Whiteman two days after I moved back,” Davis said of Madison’s senior quarterback. “It’s been a good month. I’m just trying to be the best offensive coach I can be for these guys. I think I bring a lot to the table. The stuff I’m able to add on isn’t changing too much, but it’s changing enough to make a positive change.”
Davis has been more involved with spread offenses than the Wing-T that Madison uses. But the Mohawks face a lot of spread teams, and Poff said Davis’ expertise helps the Madison defense prepare for such matchups.
“His influence is always welcome. Nobody’s shutting him down when he comes up with an idea,” Poff said. “It’s been a pretty seamless transition. There’s a lot of energy in what he does.
“Ricky helps out on both sides of the ball. We don’t put a whole lot of weight in titles around here. I’m the head coach, but I still take out the trash and sweep the locker room and do the laundry and make sandwiches before practice. Everybody’s got a job to do.”
Davis and Whiteman knew each other outside of football, so the coach/player relationship hasn’t been difficult to develop.
“Anything he has to say, anything I’ve got to say, it’s easy to talk to each other,” Whiteman said. “I think he brings a different dynamic to our team. It helps that Ricky is younger. I can relate to him more.”
“We go to church together when we’re outside of football, but when we’re in football, it’s all business,” Davis said. “I put a lot on his plate. He’s the best quarterback to come through Madison in my lifetime. His will to win is amazing, and he’s an intelligent kid who’s accountable and cares about his teammates.”
Davis is focusing on football right now and plans to intensify his search for a day job once the season is over. He’s glad the community is getting to experience Madison’s emergence as a state power in the last two years.
“It’s something that we’ve been patiently waiting for,” Davis said. “Coach Poff has done an amazing job of turning it around and changing the culture around here, and we’re not done yet.”