Broncos rookie is also Iraq veteran
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” There are many Broncos players who, after their freshman season of college ball, began to realize the NFL was not just possible, but probable.
Others may have been focusing on earning a promotion from backup to starter. Some may have been dealing with other issues, such as grades and girls.
Rulon Davis went off to fight in the Iraq war.
Fight for his country, a far cry from the sports world, where Davis is currently competing, as an undrafted 25-year-old free-agent defensive end, for a spot on the Broncos’ roster.
* Adapt and overcome . *
It’s an inspirational edict U.S. Marines frequently say to each other. Yes, Davis witnessed death. Soldiers he considered friends were killed.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said. “They’re the real heroes. Not me. People think, ‘Wow, you did all this.’ But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I didn’t have to sacrifice my life, like some of these other guys. Really, the honor is on them.”
Heroes come in many forms. Broncos defensive backs Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins are often considered heroes.
Davis has been considered a football hero, too, having started the past two years at the University of California. That was part of his new life, after his four-year commitment to the Marines and six-month tour in Iraq in 2004.
“That’s serious. Marines are tough people, man,” said Broncos rookie tight end Richard Quinn Jr. “My dad was one.”
And Davis’ football stardom at Cal would come after his motorcycle flipped on a Los Angeles freeway interchange and left him crawling, too late, in an attempted escape from under a rolling semi.
* Pain is weakness leaving the body. *
Davis, 6-feet-5 and 281 pounds, didn’t play much high school football in Covina, Calif. So upon graduation he joined the Marine Corps reserves. He first got the idea after spending his eighth- and ninth-grade years at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas.
“I fell in love with the corps,” he said. “The structure, the discipline, the leadership traits. The routine of things. Organization. It was my thing. I liked it a lot. I wanted to live my life as a Marine.”
He went through the Marines’ rigorous training program, then served one weekend a month in the Marine reserves when he decided to also play football at Mount San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, Calif.
He had 16 1/2 sacks as a freshman. Davis still loved the Marines, but now he also loved playing football. And Pac-10 schools scouted him, and offered a scholarship. The Marines would make one more call, however, to go to Iraq.
“I wanted to get back as soon as I possibly could to start playing football again,” Davis said. “But I had to do my job. I signed the contract, and I like to honor my commitment.”
Davis does not give specifics of his tour of duty. When asked, he politely asked to change the subject. Civilians who have never served can only understand they will never understand.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I think about it all the time.”
Brought up right
America can only imagine how most 20-something men start their day, but Davis begins by making his bed. His father, Lorenzo, served a four-year commitment in the Marines from 1971-75. If Semper Fidelis didn’t run through Rulon’s blood the day he was born in San Diego, the Latin expression meaning “Always Faithful” was ingrained while he attended the Marine Military Academy in Texas.
Lorenzo didn’t push the military school upon his son but said his son knew right from wrong before he went off to military school.
“It wasn’t my decision; it was his decision,” Lorenzo said. “We talked about it for about three months. It was hard letting him go; he was only 13 years old. But I felt if a young man wants to get out in the world, this was a great way to do it. And this would teach him some character traits he might not learn if he stayed at home.”
Davis said long after football, he will keep his hair short, his face shaven. He will take a jog each day.
* Once a Marine, always a Marine . *
In another sense, the Marines are always with Davis, in the way he acts, the way he carries himself.
“The way he speaks, he’s very correct, proper,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. “He treats everybody with a great deal of respect. He listens, asks good questions. Sits up in his chair, always attentive, those types of things. You can tell he was brought up the right way.”
Davis returned from the war safely, only to endure a near-death experience a few months later while riding his motor-cycle. He was exiting off one busy L.A. highway onto another when the car behind him tapped his bike. The collision sped him uncontrollably forward into the rear bumper of a midsized truck in front. The bike flipped, and Davis flew.
Airborne, Davis landed beneath an adjacent semi. Fortunately, Davis was wearing his helmet, which was dented in the front. But there was still the matter of this semi.
“I knew I was about to die if I didn’t move,” Davis said.
He tried to crawl out of the way, but the semi continued to roll, right over his calves.
Davis suffered some internal tissue damage and spent a month in and out of a hospital because of swelling. And while his return to his sophomore football season at Mount San Antonio was out, he did not have any broken bones.
Major-college football is a competitive business. Before Davis had completely healed, he had pledged his allegiance to the Cal Bears, who didn’t forget about his 16 1/2 sacks before he left for Iraq, and before the motorcycle mishap.
3-4 looks familiar
Davis voluntarily enlisted in the Marines, but come last week, he thought he would be drafted ” into the NFL. It didn’t happen. San Francisco, Jacksonville and the New York Giants all communicated their interest in the days leading up to the draft. But after the draft ended, Davis chose the Broncos instead because they are converting to a 3-4 defense.
“I don’t even care about that anymore,” Davis said of not getting drafted. “I’m happy I’m with this team. I’m trying to make this team right now and that’s where my focus is.”
Turns out, Cal is one of the few major-college programs to play a 3-4. And Davis became the only pure “5-technique” defensive end the Broncos took last week, either in the draft or as a free agent.
Maybe he isn’t such an underdog to make the Broncos after all. Not with his experience as a 3-4 end. Not with all he’s been through. The challenge of going from undrafted free agent to a 53-man roster? Puh-leze.
“Nothing’s came easy in my life as you can see,” Davis said. “I’ve had to work for everything. Hard work is not something that’s unfamiliar to me.”
Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or email@example.com