- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

MANTEO, N.C. (AP) - Canadian Football League all-star Emanuel Davis sat next to the swimming pool on May 10 relaxing with friends and family while a local restaurant catered dinner.

A television crew was in the two-story house shooting scenes for the story of his life. The show is expected to air on ESPN later this year. Earlier that day, Manteo High School had for the first time in its history retired a player’s number - his - for leading the team to the state championship game as a quarterback in 2006.

“I want to ride this wave as long as I can,” Davis said.

Life is good now, but it wasn’t just a few years ago.

Davis, 26, was just a child when a truck in the town of Burlington slammed into the small car he was riding in. His father died in his lap. Later, his mother landed in jail for drug use and he began sleeping on the couches of friends in Manteo.

A local church deacon took him in. As Davis’ senior year approached, the deacon was incapacitated by a stroke. Out of options, he turned to R.V. Owens, a volunteer assistant coach on the high school football team.

Owens had sold his Outer Banks restaurant after a long career, making plans to spend more time with his children. He helped with the football team where his son, Bo, played.

Davis was a black teen from the inner city in Durham and Burlington. His mother was a drug addict in and out of jail. Owens was a prosperous white businessman living in the quiet waterfront town of Manteo. The lifestyles could hardly contrast more.

“He told me, ‘I got nowhere to go,’ ” Owens said, standing on the dock behind his home. “I did not know him. Our lives were completely different.”

Owens consulted with his wife, Julie, daughter, Shannon, and Bo. They agreed without hesitation.

That’s when Davis’s story begins to sound like “The Blind Side,” the 2009 movie about a black teenage football player taken in by a white family. For about two months, Davis lived in the house but avoided the Owenses, staying out late to avoid interaction. An extra room and bath was built onto the house for him.

“It was a cultural shock to say the least,” Davis said. “Mama Jules, she sat me down one day and said, ‘This is your home, too.’ “

He ate meals with the family and began calling them Mom and Dad. R.V. Owens bought him a car, as he did his two children. But Davis could not get a driver’s license without the signature of a parent or legal guardian. He had neither.

His mother would not sign the paperwork. A local judge agreed to grant an emergency guardianship to the Owens, and Davis was able to get a license.

Davis finished his high school football career, receiving offers from several large schools, including the University of North Carolina and N.C. State. He felt most comfortable and had the best chance to play soon at East Carolina University as a defensive back.

“He has never been scared of anything,” said his high school coach, Walt Davis, who is not related. “He was sometimes a little hard-headed, but I don’t know too many that age that aren’t.”

Davis excelled at football but struggled to escape his past. One morning at 2:30 a.m., Owens got a call from a young man he knew who was working in a Greenville bar. He told Owens that police had Davis on the ground outside, arrested for public intoxication.

By this time, Walt Davis had moved to coach in a town not far from Greenville. Owens called him to get the young football player out of jail.

In his junior year, Davis’ brother showed up at his apartment driving a Dodge Charger full of bullet holes. Owens told his adopted son to let the brother drive Davis’ Honda back to Mebane, in case the bad guys who shot up the car were still looking for him. Later, Owens and his father drove to the rough Mebane neighborhood to retrieve Davis’ Honda. It was uncomfortable, Owens said.

During his junior and senior years, Davis served as captain of the East Carolina Pirates. Usually captains go to the center of the field at the beginning of each game, but Davis didn’t. When Owens asked him why, Davis said he was choosing the player of the week from the scout team for the honor. That spoke to the young man’s character, Owens said.

Davis played 49 games at East Carolina from 2007 to 2011, recording 230 tackles and nine interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. He ranks among ECU’s top five players in all-time pass breakups, with 36.

But in his senior year, he was failing classes.

“It was always a fight for good grades,” Owens said. “I was on a first-name basis with the academic guy.”

Davis acknowledges that at the time, he was looking forward to a big pay check from the National Football League. Owens drove to campus, cornered Davis in his car and scolded him.

“I told him to get out of my life,” Owens said. “If he didn’t graduate from college, there was no story. When you start something, finish it.”

Davis pleaded for another chance.

“That was the first time I had ever seen him that mad,” Davis said. “I knew it was time to kick it in gear when I got out of the car that day.”

Davis got his diploma in communications and pursued football. He tried out for the Cleveland Browns without success. At 5 feet 11 inches and 182 pounds, he was small for the NFL, they told him. He signed with a team in the struggling United Football League. That fell through. Davis tried out for the Hamilton, Ontario, Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League. He was cut despite performing well. With no other prospects, he considered joining the Army. Then, the Tiger-Cats had some injuries and called Davis for another tryout. This time the team signed him.

This past season, which ran from June through November, Davis had 61 tackles and five interceptions, three for touchdowns. He made the all-star team and got a new contract.

On May 10, the television crew finished up shots of Owens and the family while Davis sat at a table near the pool. He smiled as he acknowledged the amazing good fortune of coming to the Owens home.

“They hung in there for me,” Davis said. “Some parents may have turned their back on me. I have matured a lot since those days.”

Owens also had good things to say.

“He did a great job of not quitting in spite of his circumstances,” he said. “I am real proud of the kid.”

___

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com

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