By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
When an ankle injury led Baltimore Ravens defensive end Carl Davis to spend the 2016 season on injured reserve, he didn’t ask, ‘why me?’ Instead, he asked what could he do to help kids in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
“That is actually how I started working on my foundation, when I was hurt,” Davis said. “It sort of brought up some bad memories of not playing, not being able to be involved as a kid. As a kid, the PAL [Police Athletic League] actually had a weight limit and I was over the weight limit. And so, I wasn’t able to participate. I had to watch all my friends play football.”
Selected by Baltimore in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Iowa, Davis used his time on I.R. last season watching his veteran teammates.
“We’ve got a great locker room of guys. From Brandon Williams, (Terrell) Suggs, Timmy (Jernigan), Lawrence Guy, we had a great group of guys,” Davis said. “And we’ve got a great coaching staff that helps us out with learning about studying tape. Actually, Suggs is probably like the most detailed guy when it comes down to note-taking. So, I kind of watch him and see what he does and kind of emulate that.”
Davis also used the time he wasn’t able to play to put his own leadership skills to work and founded the Trenchwork Foundation. It’s a name he came up with in college when he was on the ground floor of establishing a clothing line, Trenchwork Gear.
“When I was injured, I had a lot of thinking time and I wanted to be productive with my time,” Davis said. “I always wanted to do something to give back to my city, my neighborhood, Joy Road and Appoline on the west side of Detroit. I wanted to create a better opportunity for kids in my area, so they can have the opportunities that I did have and I didn’t have.
“So, I came up with a bunch of ideas and talked to my mentor, Brandon Jackson. He’s been teaching for 20 years and he actually grew up three houses down from me. He was a guy that made sure I stayed on the straight path. When I was hurt, he would tell me about stuff in the education system like how test scores are low. He’d keep me updated on what’s going on in our area and that just kind of fueled me.
“Growing up in the Detroit public elementary schools, I was one of the only kids that could read. I realized that and I was like why is that? There are so many different factors that go into play when it comes to education. And so, my thing is to try to be a catalyst to help the kids in my neighborhood be able to get a better education and also have fun with different activities. To create opportunities overall for them to be successful Americans.”
The Trenchwork Foundation’s mission is to be committed to healthy living, education and community redevelopment. They’ve provided kids with book bags as well as new equipment for the youth football team that he was too big to play for – the Westside Steelers.
“I wanted to give back to them because I wanted to be a Westside Steeler so bad as a kid,” Davis said. “And for me to be able to come back and help... The old shoulder pads were beaten up and so, I wanted to make sure they had some quality gear so kids can stay safe. I don’t want these kids to be damaged at a young age. They deserve the right to play football at a safe level and a fun level without having to worry about getting hurt because of faulty equipment.”
Just 25 years old, Davis has experienced a great deal in his young life. And he realizes that children from his neighborhood are now living through similar experiences. That’s what energizes his desire to give back to the community.
“Growing up, I wanted the simple things and I wasn’t able to have those things,” explained Davis. “I actually had an opportunity to be on both sides. When I was in high school, I lived with different people. I moved to the suburbs and seen the opportunities that other kids had that I didn’t have growing up. I wanted to try to create an equal opportunity because I didn’t know these opportunities were out there until I was able to get out there. I just knew what I knew.
“A lot of times growing up, it’s either you played sports or you’re a guy who sells drugs and gets into some type of trouble. It’s slim you’re going to make it in any one of those. I was blessed and fortunate to be able to make it. And basically, what I want to do is be able to bridge the gap between that and create other opportunities for kids in my neighborhood and kids in the inner-city that don’t think there are opportunities. I want to show people that I care about them. Even if I don’t know them, I care.
“It’s a great feeling just to be able to help. That’s the only other joy I really feel other than football. Giving back and being able to help a kid, I know they really appreciate it. And for them to see me being on the NFL platform and see me as somebody that tells them, ‘Look, I’m no different from you. I just made the most of my opportunities and I stayed on the right path for the most part. You’re going to mess up along the way, but there’s always a way to make it.’”