Emanuel Davis knows a little bit about the importance of loyalty.
As a teenager in North Carolina, with his father dead and his mother in jail, Davis was taken in by the Owens family, R.V. And Mama Jules raising him as if he were their own. They gave him a chance when all the doors around him seemed emphatically and permanently closed.
Four winters ago, Davis’ football career was at similar crossroads. Unable to draw NFL interest, he paid his money – well R.V.’s money – to attend tryout camps for seven CFL teams across the country. Just one called him back: the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Fast forward to this winter. Coming off the best season of his CFL career, Davis was a free agent and, for the first time ever, he had options. He worked out for a couple of NFL teams and though he didn’t get an offer, there was plenty of interest from other Canadian clubs.
That hardly surprising: Davis is a 26-year-old veteran defensive back who can play multiple positions in a pass-happy league. He had five interceptions last season and returned three of them for touchdowns on his way to becoming a CFL all-star: there is, quite literally, nobody else like him available on the market. He could have gone almost anywhere.
Instead, he’s coming back to the Tiger-Cats.
“I wanted to prove my loyalty to the city and the football organization. They were the first team to give me a shot,” Davis said. “It was a long road and Hamilton has been home.”
While a sense of place is undeniably important to Davis – hardly surprising, given his path – there were football considerations as well. It took him two seasons of part-time work to firmly establish himself as a starter in the defence run by coordinator Orlondo Steinauer and he wasn’t keen to begin anew.
“Last year was the first time I actually understood what was going on,” Davis said. “The coaches are all still there, the core guys on defence and I’ve built relationships with people in the community. A lot of it was just doing what felt right.”
The new deal is for just one season and while keeping his NFL options is undeniably a factor, Davis says there’s a motivational element as well.
“I don’t want think of myself as a veteran, I always think of myself as a new guy. I feel like if I keep that mentality, I’ll be fine,” he said. “You can get cut at anytime so football is really just a succession of one-year deals. It’s like a bet on myself.”
For the first time ever, Davis isn’t living with the Owens family this off-season, choosing instead to take a place of his own in nearby Winston-Salem (“I’m learning about bills,” he said.) Still, the family travelled to several games last season and Davis expects that to be the case again this year.
“Pops has some places he likes to eat in Hamilton and Mama Jules was joking that she’s OK with the cold now,” Davis said. “After everything we’ve been through, it’s nice to know what to expect.”