Davis is one of the members of the graduating class to be featured on Today at Elon as a "profile of resilience" for their ability to adapt and succeed in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
When Skyler Davis accepted an offer to play football at Elon University, he had yet to set foot on campus. The offer from the Phoenix was the only full scholarship the place kicker had received as a senior at Allatoona High School in Acworth, Georgia.
“We were scared that maybe that maybe they were going to offer somebody else,” Davis says, laughing about the memory. “Even the head coach was like, ‘Are you sure? Usually, people come to see the campus beforehand.’ I was like, ‘Nope, we’re all set.'”
When he finally trekked the 373 miles to Elon, North Carolina, for training camp ahead of the 2018 season, Davis was ready to prove that Elon hadn’t made a mistake choosing him. “I’m here to win the starting job. During the first session, that’s what I hunkered down and focused in on,” he says.
In those initial summer practices, Davis kept his head down and stayed focused on that goal. As the first preseason game came, Davis seized his opportunity and managed to make each one of his place kicks. Soon thereafter, Davis had earned the starting job and in seven games missed only one field goal and was named a 2018 Freshman All-American.
Forty-seven games in the maroon and gold later, he has indelibly etched his name in the Elon football history books.
His story began as that of a kicker lacking the prototypical size and strength desired by most college scouts to one of the most decorated special teams players in not only Elon history or the history of the Colonial Athletic Association, but Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
In his senior year, Davis was named a first-team All-American, first-team All-CAA, and a finalist for the Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place Kicker Award. He finished his career with the most field goals in Elon history and the seventh most in FCS history.
Beginning as an undersized kicker receiving only one scholarship offer to having such an accomplished athletic career is an incredible journey in and of itself. Being a student-athlete is not the typical college experience, and Davis knew he was signing up for a grueling schedule and a higher sense of scrutiny. But what Davis, nor the rest of the world, wasn’t prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Davis, who received his bachelor’s degree in 2021 and graduates with his master of business administration on May 17, is among this year’s graduating seniors to be featured on Today at Elon as a “profile of resilience” for facing the challenges posed by COVID-19, adapting to them and finding meaning and success along the way.
The pandemic came in the spring semester of his sophomore year leading into his junior campaign. Davis had found his home away from home at Elon. Meals on campus, watching sports and workout sessions were the things that Davis cherished most off the field at Elon. Now, they had to be restricted. Even at practice, players were wearing masks and the connection between players was diminished.
“Kicking is 90% mental and having the aspect of not being able to hang out with people after a rough day of kicking. All you can do is sit in that feeling, versus going to the dining hall with my teammates and brothers and laughing off. That was one of the hardest things for me,” Davis said.
Despite that, Davis said he still put the work in. “I had to understand, this isn’t really time off for me. I still have to work out, I still have to get better,” he said. When the weeklong spring break turned into several months as the university shifted to remote learning in response to the pandemic, Davis used that time to practice and work out with friends at home.
When he did return to campus during periods of extended isolation, he would kick on the grass practice fields. When that wasn’t an option, he would practice on a field near campus using the trees in the background as uprights. In small groups, while social distancing, Davis and a few teammates would go to the gym and serve as motivators for the other. “The whole team handled the situation pretty well,” he says.
While not short of confidence in his abilities, Davis credits a lot of his success to the cast of supporters around him. The steadfast support of his family, the “brotherhood” of his teammates who pushed him along the way, and the coaches how helped him not only develop as a football player but as a person.
One coach in particular who helped Davis is Mike Nall, special teams assistant with Elon. “He was there with me every single day. It was important to have him around because if you get in a slump, as kickers do, he was always there to pull you aside and give some tips,” Davis said. “You always have to go back to the basics which he was really good at helping you do.”
When Nall first met Davis, he was not just impressed by his confidence, but by his willingness to back it up with determination. “He was a kid that had that unique ability to be receptive to coaching and he seemed to want to do everything he could that was within his power to be as good as he could be at what he did,” Nall said.
Seeing the daily work that Davis put in, his success is not a surprise to Nall. “I just felt like he was going to have a great career here from day one. I just thought he had all the attributes it took to be really good at what he does,” he said.
Nall has nearly five decades of football experience, both playing and coaching on the collegiate level, and over that time he’s developed the mantra that players “have to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” This was the building block for his relationship with Davis. Over a short time, Davis began to see the tips that Nall was giving him come to life and from there the trust was established.
“We developed a very good rapport over the years, and it’s continued to grow,” Nall said.
Nall also knows that football is just a small part of the whole process. Football is a conduit for players to develop life skills that lead to success well after they’ve stopped playing the game.
‘He’s a super human being’
In the five seasons Davis has been at Elon, Nall has seen example after example of Davis’ growth in character. From becoming an active leader on the team to playing through injuries for the betterment of the whole, Davis’ dedication is what has made him one of the special players Nall has been privileged to be around.
And while seeing a player move on to that next phase of their life is a bittersweet moment, Nall said, having the opportunity to make an impression on their life is “the greatest reward a coach can have.”
“The opportunity to coach someone like Skyler Davis and see him grow as a person as well as a football player is what makes what I do worthwhile,” he said.
“I’m just very proud of the kind of person he’s become and the kind of person he’s going to be because I bet if we can fast forward 15, 20 years, he’s going to be very successful in whatever he ends up doing. He’s a super human being.”
While Davis will no longer play at Rhodes Stadium on Saturdays, his time on the gridiron may enter another chapter as he’s earned a minicamp invite with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just five years ago, only one program gave Davis the opportunity to play on the next level. He took that chance and excelled with it. He currently finds himself in a similar position, and “with a chip on my shoulder” plans to prove himself yet again.