By Rubin E. Grant
Whenever there’s a discussion about who is the greatest running back to ever play at an Over the Mountain high school, one of the names near the top of any list — if not the top — is Robert Davis.
Davis had a record-setting career at Homewood in the early 1990s and 30 years ago was named the state’s 1991 Mr. Football, the first Over the Mountain player to earn the award. He’s the only player from Homewood to ever win it.
His on-the-field exploits were legendary. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Davis had the ability to elude defenders, accelerate in an instant and dash to the end zone.
“Robert was a different kind of cat,” said David Jones, Homewood’s offensive coordinator when Davis was there. “He was shifty, but he wasn’t a shake and bake guy. He had the ability to shift his weight just before a defender was about to strike him, avoid the contact and go.”
Davis set the stage for his Mr. Football award during his junior year in 1990, when he rushed for 2,258 yards and scored a then-single-season state record 36 touchdowns, leading the Patriots to a runner-up finish in Class 5A.
According to Jones, Davis and Blount tailback Sherman Williams “put on a show” in the 1990 Class 5A championship game, which Blount won 36-24. Davis rushed for 271 yards on 26 carries and caught a TD pass. Williams, who later played at Alabama and in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, rushed for 168 yards and scored twice, once receiving and once rushing.
During Davis’ senior season, in 1991, his Mr. Football season, he rushed for 2,432 yards and finished his career with a then-state record 6,542 yards and 87 career touchdowns.
“He could have run for a record number of yards that would have never been touched,” Jones said. “Most of the regular-season games he played only half a game because coach (Gerald) Gann didn’t want to run up the score on anybody. When you handed him the ball, there was no way Robert was going to go half speed.
“I remember during the 1991 season, we were playing Erwin (now Center Point) (and) we were up 30-something points at halftime. In the locker room, I told coach Gann we needed to get Robert ready to play in the third and fourth quarters when we got to the playoffs. He said OK and agreed to let him play the first series of the third quarter.
“But our defense forced them to punt and we blocked the punt and picked it up and scored a touchdown. Robert walked over to me and said, ‘Coach, will I still get to go in?’ I asked coach Gann and he shook his head. Robert unstrapped his chin strap because it wasn’t going to happen.”
Davis wound up at Homewood in a roundabout way. His parents divorced when he was 7 while the family was living in the Norwood community in Birmingham. After the divorce, he lived with his mother and was supposed to attend Phillips High School, but his mother moved to Detroit the summer before his freshman year in high school.
Davis enrolled at Henry Ford High School in Detroit and was practicing with the football team when his mother’s brother got sick and they returned to Birmingham. When they moved back, Davis decided to live with his dad, who had moved to Homewood.
“Homewood taught me a whole lot,” Davis said in a recent interview. “I grew up through the years in Homewood.
“That was the highlight of my career. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Davis was highly recruited and signed with LSU. He was named a Freshman All-American in 1992 but struggled academically and had some off-the-field issues that forced him to transfer. He wound up at UAB.
“My mom had gotten sick and I didn’t see her for a whole year,” Davis said. “At the end of the ’92 season, I finally got in touch with her and so I came home to get closer to her. I talked to Gene Bartow, who was the AD (athletics director) at UAB, and he told me they wanted to do something big at UAB. He offered me a scholarship and I took it.”
Davis played two years for UAB, in 1994 and 1996, but after surgery for a bulging disk in his back, he decided to forgo any attempt to play professional football.
Since then, he has had his share of ups and down and worked a number of jobs. He is currently working with his brother to remodel houses for resale or rent.
“We’ve been doing this for about six years,” said Davis, who has three grown children.
As he reflected on winning Mr. Football, Davis, now 49, said, “It was not that big of a deal to me. I was just doing what I knew to do.
“It started in Little League when I was playing for the West End Panthers. Walter Payton was my idol and I trained like him, running hills and stadium steps to keep myself in shape. I loved the game and kept my mind mentally ready for any challenge.”