Ryan Davis was a full participant in UAB football practice on Monday morning.

That sentence being newsworthy is a testament to what he means to the UAB offense. He’s a player who can be counted on to move the chains on third-down situations. He exposes man coverage and is sneaky fast. He’s not the Blazers' top deep threat – that honor goes to Trea Shropshire – but he is capable of big chunk plays. He’s not only unafraid to venture across the middle and take a big hit after a catch, but he enjoys it.

Quarterback Dylan Hopkins calls him “unguardable.” UAB interim head coach Bryant Vincent describes him as a “warrior.”

Look at his healthy moments in 2021, and you see snapshots of what he means to this receiving corps. In the opening win over Jacksonville State, he had three catches for 51 yards. He had a pair of tough third-down conversion catches in the fourth quarter at Marshall to help melt 10 minutes off the clock with UAB clinging to a touchdown lead. His contribution to the Independence Bowl victory over nationally ranked BYU was three catches for 50 yards, including a 32-yard reception on 3rd-and-11 to set up a third-quarter field goal.

“He really does have the best routes on the team. The receivers will tell you that,” Hopkins said. “He makes every route look the same.”

Now to the other part of the story. It’s not always easy for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound redshirt junior from Roswell, Georgia to stay on the field.

“I kind of have some hip issues and have my whole life,” said Davis, who missed all of spring practice and the first 11 practices of fall camp. “I played three sports growing up. I’ve made 1,000 diving catches. Done way too much to my body. I’ve always had hip flexor problems but coming into UAB, that was really the first time I’ve ever been able to go to a real doctor, go get MRIs and stuff like that.”

His hip problems kept him hopping in and out of the lineup last season. He said he had “double hip impingements [and] double labrum tears in his hip.” He dealt with a labrum tear in his right hip and a sports hernia on the right side most of last season before having surgery in January. Recently, he said, a labrum tear in his left hip was discovered.

Easing his way through those things is not possible.

“It’s tricky, because, being a receiver, you’ve got to get in and out of your breaks real fast and put those weird angles on your joints and stuff like that,” Davis said. “It is difficult sometimes, but the PRP shots, a lot of exercising, rehabbing and strengthening helps me out, helps me maintain.”

Through it all, he’s persevered.

“It’s been a long road,” Davis said. “I found out a lot about myself. It’s taught me the patience game, got me closer to God.”

Sports have always played a big role in his life. Growing up, baseball was his specialty. He played for the East Cobb Astros, which is annually among the best summer teams in the nation, and excelled enough at Blessed Trinity Catholic to earn a few SEC scholarship offers. His oldest brother, Conor, played baseball at Auburn and Arizona State. Another brother, Colin, played at Mercer University and was a seventh-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft.

“Having those two competitive role models in my life made me better as an athlete,” Davis said. “I just always wanted to be better. I always felt like the underdog. I was their younger brother. At the same time, I was like, 'I’m the younger brother but I’m going to do stuff better.' That kind of gave me the competitive edge.”

It also motivated him to take a different athletic direction when forced to choose a single sport.

“I wanted to make my own way, choose the path that would make me a better person,” said Davis, whose touchdown catch in the 2017 Georgia state playoffs handed blue-chip quarterback Trevor Lawrence his lone high school loss. “I know sometimes we can get complacent. For some reason, I just felt like baseball was a little too easy for me. I hated standing in the outfield, waiting for a couple of innings to make a play. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I love just making plays on the football field. I feel like I can make any play. Whatever I put my mind to, I feel like I can do. I chose the path that was harder for me. I knew it would make me grow more as a person, so that’s why I chose football.”

He's certainly not the biggest receiver on the roster, but he is considerably bigger than when he first stepped on campus. He never had time to do any offseason training because he never had an offseason while growing up. The year-round training made him bigger and faster, but he is still often smaller than most of the defenders he faces.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You got to learn how to make a catch over the middle,” Davis said. “You’re going to get hit, but that’s what football is about. It’s about heart more than anything. I feel like I have a huge heart and won’t let anyone outcompete me. At the end of the day, if the ball is in the air, I’m going to go grab it.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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