Like Father, Like Son: Gordo’s Ben And Wayne Davis Share Parallel On Football Field
GORDO, Ala. -- Late in the fourth quarter of a Friday night high school football game in rural Alabama, Ben and Wayne Davis stood on the sideline, just a few feet apart, waiting for the final minutes of the game to tick off the clock.
Both are representing the Gordo High School Greenwave on this night, but if you were comparing the two on their attire, neither looked the same. Ben was dressed up in a green No. 1 football jersey with white pants and a gold helmet in hand, while Wayne wore a gray Gordo Greenwave T-shirt and khaki shorts with a green "G" hat on his head.
But if you looked closely, resting on a shoulder for each, was a towel – hanging short on Ben, the younger of the two, and long on the older Wayne. Had others also had this accessory, an observation like this might have been easy to look over. But of all the people standing on that sideline – players, coaches, referees – only Ben and Wayne had one.
Even without knowing, it seemed almost obvious that there was a connection between Ben, a junior linebacker for the Greenwave and one of the most highly-rated football prospects in the nation, and Wayne, his father, a former Gordo football player himself who went on to set the all-time career tackles mark at Alabama and play two seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals.
They are football players from the same town, representing the same school a little more than 30 years apart. They started out primarily as tight ends before becoming more linebacker-centric. They are relatively the same size (Ben has an inch and a half and about a 15-pound advantage over Wayne in his playing days at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and, on the side, centers for the Gordo varsity basketball team, where in-game dunking was and is a regular habit.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Both will tell you their similarities weren’t planned.
“I think Ben found that playing the tight end position with his size and speed and strength and then playing the linebacker position, he understands that it best fits him,” Wayne said. “And it’s just a coincidence that I played the same thing.
“I can really get detailed with him about playing tight end, I can get detailed with him about playing linebacker. So there’s a great benefit to it.”
If a legend exists in Gordo, a town of just under 2,000 residents in West Alabama, Wayne Davis is it. After all, it was Wayne who played for the Crimson Tide about 30 minutes away in nearby Tuscaloosa and reached the NFL – the only player from Gordo to ever play at the highest level of football.
Even after 20 years of living in Arizona following his playing career with the Cardinals, everyone in Gordo knows Wayne and what he was able to accomplish on the field. Fair or not, the expectations are now set on his son to live up the same billing. For many, the pressures may be too much to handle, but not for Ben.
“I embrace it,” said Ben, who moved to Alabama with his family in the summer of 2007 after spending his early childhood in Arizona. “My dad helped me out with a lot of things in football. It just makes you work even harder in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field.”
On this night, homecoming for Gordo against the Sipsey Valley Bears, Ben was not the difference in a 34-7 win for the Greenwave. He did not score the game-winning touchdown nor did he make the crucial late stop on defense to preserve a victory. But even in playing perhaps a smaller role than usual, he made it clear why he’s already been given a five-star rating according to some recruiting outlets.
With the Greenwave struggling to do anything offensively in the first half, Ben made his presence felt on defense with five tackles (three for loss), even with the Bears purposely running plays away from the outside linebacker. On one occasion, he chased down a Sipsey Valley tailback running left for a two-yard loss, despite lining up all the way on the right. “If they run away from me, I’m going to run them back down,” Ben said after the game.
Because of his size and speed, Ben is sometimes not credited as a linebacker but as an “athlete.” He is already bigger than the average college linebacker and possesses the ability to not only play outside – or inside – linebacker but in the secondary in certain packages, along with roles on offense and special teams as well.
All together, he has landed 17 offers with two more big names – Florida State and Auburn – also showing a mutual interest. But with one more year of high school ball still left to play, Ben isn’t rushing to any decisions. To little surprise, he said Alabama – a school that he has visited for all three of the Crimson Tide’s home games so far in 2014 – will certainly be among his favorites, but he has also visited Auburn twice and would like to take visits to some others, too.
Though Wayne admits to having a bias, he believes he already knows for sure which choice Ben should make.
“I made it clear with Ben that he needs to go to Alabama,” said Wayne, who is now a pastor in Gordo. “I made it clear with Ben also that I want him to go around and look at the other schools and make up his own mind.”
Wayne is one of the few – if not only – people to have sat down in both Paul “Bear” Bryant and Nick Saban’s offices as the two most revered coaches in Alabama’s illustrious history gave their recruiting pitch to a Davis.
Like with his own son, Wayne said the similarities between both Bryant – who recruited him before passing away in early 1983 ahead of his freshman season – and Saban – who has now done the same with Ben – are staggering. For the same reasons he was drawn to Bryant, it is the same reaction and feeling now with Saban.
“I think Coach Saban commands that same type of discipline and respect and awareness of what you want to do, what you should be doing, and then just like Coach Bryant, I think Coach Saban has a plan of how to get there,” Wayne said. “That’s what I like about him so much. He understands every position, and he knows exactly how he wants to direct his football team, and that’s important.”
When the second half began after an ugly, scoreless game through two quarters, so too it seemed that the pride of Gordo had finally arrived.
Within a minute, the Greenwave finally broke the scoring drought when cornerback Patrick Manning scooped and scored on a 42-yard fumble return. Six minutes later it was Manning again, this time on a 20-yard interception returned for a touchdown. And if that wasn’t enough, Manning’s 40-yard run on offense at the end of the third quarter helped set up for a Gordo 10-yard touchdown that made it 20-0.
“I told them it was still a 0-0 ballgame, so we just need to go out there and play ball, like we know how to do,” said Ben, who Wayne describes as being a little more of a “rah rah” guy than he was.
Ben finished the game with ten tackles (four for loss), but his biggest contributions came on key blocks on two of Manning’s three big plays – the interception return and long run – where no glory is won and only the tape will tell the tale.
That’s fine, though, because personal achievements are secondary to what he’s trying to accomplish in the present.
Now at 6-0 after its 41-7 win at American Christian Academy this past Friday, Gordo is off to its best start in over a decade. Since its inaugural season in 1920, it has accomplished this feat eight times before, but only once in those years – 1980 when Wayne was a sophomore – did it go on to win the state title.
“You know, the offers can sort of be a distraction if you let it be, but he’s done a good job of not letting that be a distraction for the team,” Gordo defensive coordinator Eddie Hankins said. “He wants to win a state championship. That’s his No. 1 goal. We don’t really even talk about the recruiting stuff.”
Though Ben currently plays as an outside linebacker, Saban envisions him as an inside linebacker at the college level, just as Bryant once saw the same in Wayne.
Wayne still remembers that Friday night in 1982, his senior year, when Bryant came to Gordo to watch him play, leaning up against the fence with his famous houndstooth fedora tilted slightly forward on his head -- a look only he could pull off.
Saban has yet to come to Gordo to watch Ben play, “but when he does come, we’re going to be aware of it,” Wayne said with a laugh.
And if it does happen, it will be yet another parallel that only strengthens the link between this father and son forever.