Broncos linebacker Todd Davis looked around cavernous SAP Center, decked out for Super Bowl opening night and teeming with media and fans, and soaked in the atmosphere. Many of Davis’ teammates had experienced this kind of buildup before a game, whether at a previous Super Bowl or a major college bowl game. But this was a far cry from Mondays before games at Sacramento State.
“It’s all things that I’ve never experienced,” said Davis, 23. “I’ve never been to a bowl game, so I never experienced the media hype or all the fans cheering you on as you (arrive). The whole experience has been new. But it’s been great.”
Davis, in his second season in the NFL, traced an unlikely route to Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers. He finished his career at Sacramento State second in tackles but went undrafted in 2014. He signed with New Orleans in time for training camp but played in only three games before being claimed off waivers by the Broncos.
Six weeks later, Davis became a starter due to injuries, and he made enough of an impression in the final two games of the 2014 season to earn a roster spot for 2015. This season, he played in every game for the Broncos, including two more starts, and now has a role in the Super Bowl to show for it.
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“I think I get the ball and start going and don’t see everything as it’s happening and how crazy the story is,” Davis said. “But I was talking to my mom the other day, and that’s when I kind of got it, and it sunk in that I’m here, (two years) out of Sac State, already in the Super Bowl. And it’s a great feeling.”
Davis, who starred at Paraclete High School in Lancaster, said he got a call from the football staff at Sacramento State while he was looking at schools. He visited the campus and “fell in love” with the coaching staff and atmosphere. Over the next four seasons, he had 351 tackles and played a key part in the Hornets’ memorable 30-28 upset of FBS opponent Colorado in 2012, recording six solo tackles.
Bypassed in the 2014 draft – he reportedly performed poorly in speed tests because of over-training – Davis attended a rookie minicamp for the Saints, who told him they liked him but didn’t have space on their roster. He returned to Southern California and kept training until the Saints called again. After several months bouncing back and forth between New Orleans’ practice squad and active roster, Davis found stability when he was claimed by Denver in mid-November 2014.
Davis was tossed into a new defense in midseason, but he said the transition was made easier by the help of Broncos veterans such as Von Miller and Brandon Marshall. Primarily a middle linebacker, Davis said he tries to pattern his game after that of Ray Lewis, the retired former star of the Baltimore Ravens, whom Davis admired for “his passion, his effort, his intensity.”
Marshall, a linebacker in his fourth NFL season, had high praise for Davis at Monday’s media night.
“Todd Davis has brought a lot of toughness, a lot of grit,” Marshall said. “He works extremely hard; he’s very diligent in his work. His work will look the same from Week 1 to Week 17.
“I told my coach that Todd will be a starter in this league one day. He’s a hell of a player. He’s a great kid, man. And I think what I appreciate most about Todd is he wants to be great.”
Davis had 21 tackles in limited playing time this season for a Broncos defense that allowed the fewest yards in the NFL. His season high of five tackles came in Week 17 against the Chargers in a win that helped the Broncos secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but he has yet to record a postseason tackle.
At this point in his career, Davis said, he’s “wherever my team needs me, whether it’s special teams or defense.”
Davis said he “learned the game a lot better” during his time at Sacramento State – how to watch film, note opponents’ tendencies and pick up on things during games. As he nears his first Super Bowl, juggling preparation for the game with ticket requests from friends and family, he recalled another lesson from the Hornets.
“This is a huge occasion, so I’ve been trying to take it one day at a time, stay calm,” Davis said. “That’s something I learned at Sac State – keep the tiger in the cage until game day.”