Carolina Panthers’ Thomas Davis discusses the positive work he and his team are doing through the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation, winning the NFL’s Walter Payton Award, his expectations for this year’s team, and how everyone should follow their dreams.
What was life like for a child growing up in Shellman, Georgia?
It was tough, but I didn’t know any different.
Was there a point when you knew you wanted to pursue football as a career or did you just have the mentality that you wanted to play as long as there was an opportunity?
Football was a good opportunity for me to further my education and possibly receive a scholarship. I felt like I was good enough at [the sport] and I took advantage of the opportunity.
You started the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation [TDDDF] in 2008. Why did you feel that this was something that you wanted or needed to do?
Because of the way I grew up, I felt the need to help others. TDDDF is a way to use my platform in the NFL to make a difference in other people’s lives.
One of the main pillars of the TDDDF is the Thomas Davis Youth Leadership Academy [TDYLA]. Who specifically is this academy catered towards and how can children become candidates to participate?
The Thomas Davis Youth Leadership Academy equips middle school age youth with the practical skills needed to become productive, self-fulfilled and achievement-oriented young adults and community leaders. Students can sign up online at www.defendingdreams.org beginning in September.
What are the main focuses of the Leadership Academy and what kinds of programs, curricula, or other activities are involved with being a part of the academy?
The program’s goal is to support or build an educational foundation for the student and to help each participant realize and/or maximize their full potential. The hope is that TDYLA will produce leaders and role models who will lead projects that will help in the improvement of their neighborhoods and communities. TDYLA uses the TRRFCC Character Building Model. There are six components associated with this model: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. These components are a general representation of the characteristics that many academic institutions look for when recruiting students for acceptance into their programs and when awarding scholarships and grants. The program involves the whole: child, extended family and the community. It incorporates a school-to-work focus, academic skill development and leadership development. Guest speakers are invited to give presentations, field trips are regularly scheduled to expose the participants to the rich resources surrounding their community, and community service opportunities are planned as well. TDYLA is a program where students will learn the value of healthy nutrition as well as life skills, public speaking, writing, debate, critical thinking and conflict/resolution skills.
What are some of the other events and activities within the TDDDF that you are doing in the community?
The Annual Youth Football Camp developed to equip middle school-aged youth with skills to build upon academic foundations and enhance leadership skills. The Annual Thanksgiving Dinner with the Panthers is another great event where local women’s and children’s shelter occupants are served by Panthers players in a family style, sit-down dinner setting. There is also the Annual Back to School Event which involves providing 600-plus backpacks and school supplies to students grades 1 – 12. During the holidays, we serve over 600 children in Charlotte, NC and Shellman, GA with our Christmas Toy Giveaways.
Throughout your journey as both a man and a player, who have been some of the most influential people in your life and in what ways did they have such a big impact on you?
My grandmother gave me my core values: being respectful and hard working. Everything I know about being a good person, I learned from her. My high school and college coaches aided me in my journey to become a man. They taught me what was right and they taught me integrity.
In 2014 you were awarded the NFLs Walter Payton Award which honors a players volunteer and charity work, as well as excellence on the field. What did it mean to you to win this award?
[Being awarded the NFLs Walter Payton Award] was a huge accomplishment. Being recognized for both my work on and off the field was amazing. To be able to bring the award home to the people that help [make the foundation] possible, like my board, was great.
If you had to describe yourself in four words, what would they be?
Hard-working, determined, family-oriented, and humble.
Who are some of the other important people that are involved with the TDDDF and how have they helped you to make it what it is today?
My wife and executive director, Kelly Davis and the board members: April Albritton, Robert Brannon, Denada Jackson, and Larry Mims. Each of these people volunteer their time and give 100% to the mission and the events of TDDDF. They are there to support me in my dreams for the youth and families we help. From shopping for over 600 kids for Christmas to stuffing hundreds of bookbags with supplies, they are there for TDDDF.
Why do you feel that family and community are so important to help in development and future success?
This is our community and we need to serve it so we can impact it for good. Its the only way a community can move forward.
There are a lot of people in the world, young and old, that feel that because of the hands they were dealt, and the obstacles in front of them, they have plenty of excuses on why they can’t succeed in life or follow their dreams. What is your message to those people that feel this hopelessness?
Always keep fighting. Don’t give up. Continue to believe you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
What do you feel like your biggest accomplishment has been and in the end, what you do want your legacy to be?
[My biggest accomplishment is] being a father of four. [I want my legacy to be] that I am a hard worker, I always strive to do things the right way, and that I persevered and did what was best to help others.
How has playing with guys like Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen and others affected you both on and off the field?
It makes my job so much easier to be surrounded by good guys. They’re amazing.
Do you think the Panthers have the tools to make a Super Bowl run?
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