Top 100: Billy Davis, Mount Vernon, Football, 1980

Top 100: Billy Davis, Mount Vernon, Football, 1980

At Clemson University, Billy Davis will forever be known as the player who's clutch, long punt return helped the Tigers defeat Nebraska, 22-15, in the 1981 Orange Bowl football game which decided the national collegiate championship.

Davis, a 1980 Mount Vernon High graduate, has given several interviews for books and newspapers over the years regarding that incredible national championship Clemson squad, which was coached by Danny Ford. To this day, he is sincerely grateful that he was able to contribute to his team's glorious win over the Tom Osborne-coached Cornhuskers on that glorious New Year's Day Orange Bowl game in Miami.

The win completed the Tigers' season at 12-0 and gave them the one and only national football crown they have ever known. Davis, a sophomore backup safety that season, helped Clemson pave the way to the Orange Bowl victory with a 47-yard punt return in the third quarter which set up a Tigers field goal to give the South Carolina ACC school a 22-7 lead.

"To this day, that's what I'm known for at Clemson, which is cool," said Davis, who today is a secret service agent who resides with his family in the Atlanta area.

Davis, who is currently helping organize Clemson's upcoming 25th year anniversary celebration of that 1981 team's success, played behind Tigers great Terry Kinard, a collegiate Hall-of-Famer, in the Clemson secondary for several seasons before becoming a starter his senior season. He was a part of Clemson squads which captured Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) titles in three consecutive years from 1981 to 1983. During those three seasons, the Tigers went a combined 30-2-2, including the national title game win.

"We had so many great players," said Davis, who learned a lot about winning as part of coach Bruce Patrick's Mount Vernon team that captured the 1979 Northern Region title. "I went down there [to Clemson] thinking I would march in and start [every year]."

Although Davis did not start at Clemson during his first three years, he was utilized as a defensive secondary nickel back while also contributing as a special teams player. As a junior, he helped clinch a 24-22 win at Maryland when he intercepted a Boomer Essiason pass late in the game.

He has wonderful memories of the Orange Bowl experience as a sophomore. He remembers the pre-game warmups that night and thinking to himself that he was about to play in a game - the Orange Bowl - which he had grown up watching as a kid at his Mount Vernon-area home over the years. He remembers the stadium filling up during those pre-game warmups.

He also recalls the Tigers being all set to go out onto the field for the start of the game only to learn that the starting time had been moved back for TV purposes because the Rose Bowl game, taking place all the way across the country, had gone longer than expected. As a result, Orange Bowl game officials and TV decision-makers elected to delay the start of the Clemson-Nebraska game.

"We found out the Rose Bowl game was still going on," recalled Davis. "We took our pads off and our jerseys off and just sat there."

He remembers a TV monitor in the dressing room showing the final minutes of the Rose Bowl game, and recalls the game announcers promoting the upcoming Orange Bowl game as a spectacular view of the Orange Bowl stadium was shown to the national television audience from the Good Year Blimp's perspective.

Nebraska, the fourth ranked team in the country, was a four-point favorite versus Clemson. The Cornhuskers had such stars as Irvin Fryar, Mike Rozier, and Turner Gill. But that night belonged to Clemson, and Davis will always remember it.

"We had a lot of notoriety that went with [winning the title]," said Davis. "Now, as a 44-year old with a wife and kids, I'm known as Billy Davis who was the punt returner on the national championship team."

WHILE DAVIS' COLLEGIATE FOOTBALL career was the dream of a lifetime in many ways, his high school recollections of being a three-sport star at Mount Vernon High School are just as pleasant to recall.

Davis played football, basketball, and baseball for the Majors and was part of some outstanding teams under the leadership of outstanding coaches.

A high school All-American and three-time All-Northern Region football player, Davis, a safety on defense and wide receiver on offense, was particularly spectacular during his senior season when the Majors, 12-2 that season under coach Patrick, defeated Ed Henry's Robinson team, 17-10, in the 1979 region title tilt. Mount Vernon, in that finals game played at Robinson, wore their all-burgundy uniforms that day.

Unfortunately, Davis, who had nine interceptions that season, was hindered by a lower back injury during the later part of that season. He was not close to being healthy In the Majors' season-ending 13-10 loss to Patrick Henry (Ronaoke) in the state AAA semifinals.

"I was hurting real bad," said Davis, of the state playoff game. "I went through a lot of [medical] procedures to play [that day]. [The loss] was devastating. I was probably 25 percent, if that. I do believe, if I was 100 percent, we would have won that ball game."

Earlier in Davis' high school football career, the Mount Vernon program received a huge shot in the arm when Waverly Brooks was named the new Majors' head coach. The program had struggled through some losing seasons in prior years, but Brooks, who had been an assistant coach at UVA, immediately led a Mount Vernon turn-around.

"We went from doormat in the [old] Gunston District to winning it," said Davis.

The Majors, under Brooks, won the district title during Davis' sophomore season. Then, the following season, Mount Vernon finished 9-1 with its lone setback coming to district foe Fort Hunt.

Brooks left to become a football assistant at Marshall University, opening the door for Patrick to become Mount Vernon's new head coach for the 1979 season.

"Bruce was my freshman football coach so the core group of players in the fall of 1979 had played with Bruce as freshmen," said Davis.

Coach Patrick, over the next 10 years, emerged into the winningest coach in Mount Vernon football history, leading the Majors to five district titles, three region titles, a state crown (1983) and an overall record of 77-34-1.

Davis, who spent a brief time in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals following his college playing days, said he has never played under better football coaches than the ones he played under at Mount Vernon in head coaches Brooks and Patrick, and defensive secondary coach Ken Gaudreault.

"Those three guys are three of the best coaches I've ever had at any level of sports," said Davis. "They were great guys and great motivators. I truly believe Bruce could have excelled at the [collegiate] level."

Davis, who caught six TD passes his senior season at wideout, said the Majors of his playing days were a group of talented players from various backgrounds who came together as a true team.

"We had a lot of talent." said Davis. "The Mount Vernon area back then was really an interesting mix of people. There were lower income kids, middle class, and [wealthy] kids. Everybody brought something different to the pot."

Patrick said the 6-foot-4 inch, 190-pound Davis was everything a coach could ask for in a player.

"He was a tremendously gifted athlete and a very unselfish player," said Patrick, who is currently Co-Director of Athletics for the Virginia High School League (VHSL). "He was a leader and a team captain. ...[At safety] he had tremendous closing speed. He had a tremendous vertical leap and a real nose for the football."

In baseball, Davis played under the late Mike Foglio. He was part of a Majors team which captured a district title his sophomore season. As a senior, Davis, a center fielder, led the region with a .441 batting average and was named First Team All-Met. He went on to play the sport at Clemson as well.

"I loved coach Foglio," said Davis. "He was like an extra grandfather to me. He was a real nice guy [with] a great family."

As a high school basketball player, Davis played under legendary Majors coach Don McCool. He was part of a Majors team which won the 1979 state title.

"We had a great basketball team," said Davis. "Basketball was something for me to do between baseball and football. Coach McCool, are you kidding me? He was a great coach."

DAVIS' STORIED athletic career at Mount Vernon where he played under such outstanding coaches helped prepare him for big time college athletics and being part of a national championship football team at Clemson.

"I was blessed enough to be a part of a lot of championships from Little League to high school," said Davis, a former Woodlawn Little League player. "Clemson was a place I really felt comfortable. I believe it's the greatest atmosphere to play college football in the country. To be part of the first and only team to win a football championship at that school is one of the top experiences of my life."

Davis, following his Clemson football career, got a taste of life in the NFL. He was not drafted but signed on as a free agent for the Denver Broncos before getting cut three weeks into training camp. After returning home to the Mount Vernon area, he suffered a sprained ankle playing pickup basketball.

He received a call from the St. Louis Cardinals. In particular, Larry Wilson, a former All-Pro safety for the Cardinals who was at the time part of the team's football hierarchy, had called to let Davis know they needed another free safety. Davis informed Wilson of his ankle injury, but was encouraged to come to St. Louis to get a physical nonetheless. Davis failed the physical and therefore could not sign with the Cardinals. But later in the season after his injury had mended, Davis did sign with St. Louis and was with the team during the final weeks of the 1984 season.

St. Louis was coached by Jim Hanifan at the time and its quarterback was Neil Lomax. One of Davis' greatest moments was coming into RFK Stadium late that season as a member of the Cardinals. He had grown up rooting for the Redskins and now he was a member of the opposition. Washington, in a game for the NFC East title, won a close game that day, 29-27.

"I grew up a Redskins fan and, all of a sudden, I got to come back and play against the Redskins - guys I'd grown up watching," said Davis.

Prior to that day's game, Davis remembers being out on the RFK field for pre-game warmups and watching Redskins kicker Mark Moseley practicing his field goals with QB Joe Theismann holding. He also recalls Redskins radio announcers and Hall-of-Famers Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgenson watching both teams warm up from the sideline.

But his greatest recollection of that day was seeing his dad, Will, down on the field. Mr. Davis had persuaded one of the security guards to allow him down on the field to watch the Cardinals in warmups.

"I thought, 'Now I've arrived.' I'm looking at my dad and he's looking at me.' He [said to me], 'Well, are you ready?'"

Davis was strictly a special teams player those final few weeks for the Cardinals. The following season, he was one of Cardinals' final cuts. He returned to Alexandria and worked as a Mount Vernon assistant football coach under coach Patrick.

Davis did not receive any more calls from the NFL, but did sign a contract with the Birmington Stallions of the old USFL football league. The league, however, folded before Davis ever played a game.

Davis' NFL career was brief, but he proved to himself he had what it takes to be an NFL player.

"I do believe in my heart I could have played five, six, seven, or eight years if I'd been in the right place at the right time," he said. "I knew I could compete at that level. I knew in my heart I held my own."

Davis, who had never finished up his academic work at Clemson, went on to earn his degree in 1988 and went to work for the secret service in 1989.

"I got into [the secret service] because I want to serve the country," said Davis.

Davis is still a big part of Clemson University. He is a part of the school's Board of Visitors and regularly attends home football games. He looks forward to the '81 team's 25 year Anniversary, which will take place the weekend when the Tigers host North Carolina this fall. He said his two great loves are his own family and the Clemson family. But make no mistake - Davis is still a Major at heart as well.

"Mount Vernon's in my blood," he said.

Billy Davis is 91 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.