Leo Davis wants to be example for students

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) 5-07

There's more to the story than a young man
playing for the team he grew up adoring, than joining the team his
father once player for, than enrolling at a school countless
relatives have attended.

It's about leading the way.

Leo Davis isn't weighed down by the burden of expectations. Or by the
fact that college graduation rates among American Indians are among
the lowest in the country. Or that the eyes of his well-extended
family, and those outside the brood, will be watching - to see him
play football for Montana State University, to see if he can increase
that small percentage of graduates by even a tenth of a point.

The potential for pressure on Davis is high. He is the eldest of five
boys, born to a Blackfeet father and a Sioux mother. With aunts,
uncles and cousins from all corners of the state bursting with pride,
the microscope Davis will be under won't cause claustrophobia.
Rather, it will magnify his quest to be an example.

When the weight on your shoulders is not only welcomed, but
self-imposed, it's hard to feel a strain.

“I want to prove,” says Davis, a senior at Billings Skyview High,
“to the country that Native Americans, yes, we have athletes that
can make it past high school and into college.”

That transition didn't start smoothly.

In January, while Montana State head football coach Mike Kramer was
interviewing for the same position at the University of Idaho - and
when all of MSU's high school recruiting was halted - Davis' plans
shifted out of state.

His father, Doug, had walked on to the 1984 team at MSU, then
“walked off,” his football and rodeo careers derailed by spinal

Doug Davis, one of 10 children who grew up on a cattle ranch in
Browning, later did graduate with a degree in engineering. Several of
his siblings graduated from the school, as did the woman he later

But with the future of the Bobcat program unclear, Leo Davis
committed to Colorado State in early February. Fort Collins had won
out over other Division I-A programs, including Wyoming, Idaho, Boise
State, Washington, Washington State, the University of Montana.

And Montana State.

For Davis, a two-time, two-way all-state lineman who stands 6-foot-5
and had five sacks in one game last season, reaching the decision
allowed him to exhale. It wasn't long, however, that a deep breath
was needed: The reality of such an obligation started to set in.

Montana State football recruit Leo Davis is pictured on the sidelines during Billings Skyview High football practice, on Oct. 18, 2005. Davis wants to be "part of that elite group of Native Americans that makes it through college." (AP Photo/The Billings Gazette, Bob Zellar)

“It felt a little bit good,” Davis said, “and then I
thought, 'Oh my God, this is something that I have to be committed to
for five more years.' And that feeling never went away, and it just
got worse and worse.”

No one had leaned on him to choose Montana State, but the pull was there.

Davis remembered attending Bobcat football and basketball games with
his father when the family lived in Boise, Idaho, during the early
1990s, the first time Doug and Debbie Davis both lived away from the
reservation. Leo also remembered being told how his favorite toy in
the crib was a Nerf football and how his grandmother owned a trailer
court in Bozeman.

“He re-evaluated his heart,” Doug Davis said.

Leo's heart knew where it belonged, and he talked about that feeling
with his understanding father. He slept on it until he knew CSU
wasn't right for him, and the final decision became clear after he
spent an April weekend at MSU's American Indian Council Pow Wow.

“I think that shows the type of character of the young man,” MSU
assistant coach Jason McEndoo said. “He goes through that gamut of
emotions and has the guts to call Colorado State and say, 'Hey, I
think I made the wrong decision here.”'

After Colorado State agreed to release him from his letter-of-intent,
Davis signed with MSU last week. He'll be a defensive end, on
scholarship, as one of 10 Montana high school recruits to join the
program in the fall.

“It was a large monkey off my back,” Leo Davis said. “I thought
more deeply about it, and what it came down to is being close to my

There was also an important lesson learned.

“Don't burn any bridges,” McEndoo said.

Don't turn your back, either. Leo Davis, the consummate leader, knows better.

He was the new boy at the park who before long was giving piggyback
rides to other children. He's the first, when a new student enters
Skyview High, to extend a welcoming hand. As an eighth-grader at
Billings' Castle Rock Middle School, an institution of 800, he was
named student of the year.

He performed in a talent show at Castle Rock - lights off with
traditional tribal music playing - dancing and displaying his Native
American heritage, and he received a standing ovation.

At Colorado State, Davis could have made an impression. But his
ripples can make bigger waves in a smaller pond.

As his mother, an MSU nursing graduate, says, “He can be more of a
role model here in Montana.”

Leo Davis was born in Crow Agency, home to a nearly 100 percent
Indian population. Today, he spends most of his summers on the
reservation in Browning or at his grandparents' ranch just outside
Lame Deer.

At Skyview, he played basketball as well as football, leading the
Falcons in rebounding and blocked shots last season. He is part of
the Native American Club, National Honor Society and is ranked in the
top third of his class. He is also a member of Skyview's Trading Card
program, where students visit elementary schools and are involved in
community activities for youngsters.

The children, in turn, can trade cards that feature the program members' faces.

Davis sees his biggest opportunity to be a role model coming in the fall.

An Indian going to college isn't as unheard of as it once was. But
one who earned a football scholarship and is nearly a lock to
graduate is a rare breed in Montana.

Pressure? A better word is opportunity.

“A lot of my younger cousins, they look up to me, and they live here
in Montana,” Davis says. “I thought, 'If I stay here, they can go
to school here.'

“I want to be part of that elite group of Native Americans that make
it through college.”