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Once a high school football star, Joel Davis is now a leader for the Aggie baseball team.

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Steve Huff knows leaving is never easy.

For Huff, the head football coach at College Station High School, located about five-and-a-half miles south of the Texas A&M campus, changing towns and teams is an unfortunate byproduct of a demanding career.

Huff has coached in several states, countless cities and even made three separate stops as a college graduate assistant. His high school programs have been consistent winners, and with each new job, the unenviable task of packing up, moving and saying goodbye to his former players routinely weighs on his emotions.

While he built special relationships with players at each stop along the way, there may not have been a more gut-wrenching goodbye than the one he had to say in January 2012. Then the coach of Midwest City High School in Oklahoma, Huff had piloted the Bombers to six consecutive playoff appearances and a 60-12 overall record.

Joel Davis, now a senior first baseman for the Texas A&M baseball team, was a junior at Midwest City. Davis, always an exceptional athlete, was a two-sport star for Midwest City where he excelled in baseball and football. In fact, the gridiron was his passion. Playing quarterback, in particular, was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

"That's all I ever wanted to do," recalled Davis, who was talented enough as an eighth grader to play for the school's freshman 7-on-7 summer team.

Davis quickly made varsity when he enrolled in high school and instantly became Huff's second shadow.

"He was literally like my second dad," Davis said. "At school, I'd spend pretty much all day with him. I'd go to class, and then in between class I'd go sit in his office and talk."

Davis' junior season was particularly memorable. The Bombers cruised through an undefeated regular season and ascended high up the national rankings. But the season ended abruptly in the quarterfinals when Midwest City dropped a four-overtime decision after the opposing team recovered a fumble in the end zone.

The loss stunned everyone associated with the program.

For Davis, it paled in comparison to the news he received two months later that Huff was leaving for College Station High School. (Huff's wife, Tracy Treps, had recently joined the 12th Man Foundation's staff as its director of priority ticketing.)

"It wasn't easy to leave, I can tell you that," said Huff, who also coached quarterbacks and called plays for the Bombers. "Joel was like a secondary son. He was like having another coach on the field because he gets it. He always got it. He was a heck of a leader for us. We were going into his senior year, and we knew we were going to be pretty good. That made it pretty difficult."

 

Comeback Kid

An untimely elbow injury forced Joel Davis to attend junior college for two years after high school. But the former quarterback standout blossomed on the diamond at Seminole State College in Oklahoma. His hitting prowess from the left side caught the eye of Texas A&M's coaches and eventually landed him a spot in the Aggies lineup.

The departure made Davis downright mad. Huff tried to make contact for several days, but Davis sent each call straight to voicemail. Finally, Davis relented and accepted an offer to stop by Huff's house. Seeing the coach's family made things even more difficult, as Davis had become a close friend and role model to the couple's two young children.

The tear-filled goodbye eventually concluded, but more tough news was headed Davis' way.

Several months later, one day before the start of fall practices for football, Davis tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The injury forced him to make a difficult decision. Doctors said he could continue his football career without undergoing Tommy John surgery, but if he wanted to play baseball again, he needed to have surgery as soon as possible--and miss his senior year of football in the process.

At the time, Davis had a handful of smaller colleges expressing interest in his football abilities and zero inquiries about baseball.

To the surprise of many, he elected to undergo the surgery in an effort to salvage his baseball career.

"Not being able to play my senior year of football was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Davis said. "I was crushed, because that was going to be my coming-out year. Our team really struggled, and it was tough watching that and knowing I could have been out there making a difference. I was very emotional going through that season."

With his football career effectively over, Davis landed at Seminole State College in Seminole, Okla. Davis quickly made the best of his decision to continue playing baseball. His freshman campaign resulted in a .384 batting average, 13 home runs and 57 RBI. Davis continued to impress as a sophomore after hitting .356 with 66 RBI.

During a stint with the Sanford River Rats in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, he played alongside A&M's Hunter Melton. Melton and Davis developed a quick friendship and Davis encouraged Melton to tell the A&M coaches about him.

A&M head coach Rob Childress and his staff were aware of the burgeoning talent at Seminole State and reached out to Davis after his freshman campaign. Davis may have grown up an Oklahoma Sooners fan, but he quickly developed a deep affinity for all things maroon.

As a multi-positional talent with plenty of pop from the left side, Davis filled a significant hole in Childress' lineup.

 

Easy to Admire

Davis made a defensive switch for 2017, moving from left field to first base. After struggling early, he has become one of the most dependable position players in the SEC. One of only two Aggies to start every game this season, Davis is second on the team in both home runs and RBI. He has also become a role model for many young fans.

"We had a major need," Childress said. "He was a guy who could DH, play in the outfield or play in the dirt. We knew he was versatile, but the thing he brought the most was that left-handed sock. And for him to break into our lineup last year as a first-year player said a lot about his ability to hit. Sometimes, transfer guys take a year (to get acclimated)."

Davis faced a tall task during his first season in College Station. The Aggie roster was loaded with talent, and a national-best 13 players were eventually selected in the 2016 MLB Draft.

That didn't stop the junior college transfer from making 37 starts and 48 appearances for his new team. He didn't disappoint, compiling a .293 average and .504 slugging percentage. Davis split his starts between designated hitter and left field while hitting seventh in the lineup.

Now a senior, Davis has become a true everyday player for the Aggies. Along with freshman sensation Braden Shewmake, Davis is one of only two players to start every game this season.

It hasn't come without some growing pains, however. Childress moved Davis from the outfield to first base this year, a significantly altered role that required some lumps early in the season. Davis recorded seven errors during non-conference play, leading many to question the veteran coach's decision.

But Davis has dazzled against SEC competition. With only one error in the first 24 league contests, his fielding percentage of .996 is remarkable considering the number of plays in which he is involved.

"He's done it through hard work," Childress said. "First base is not an easy place to play, and he's been putting in the time and the sweat that nobody sees. It's not just in practice but on his own time, too. He's worked really hard to make himself a good first baseman, and I can't imagine there is another first baseman in the league who has done a better job than him during conference play."

As a team, the Aggies rebounded from an 0-5 start in SEC games to rattle off wins in five consecutive series and climb back into the national rankings.

"I think we had gotten a little too caught up with trying to be like last year's team, but we're not--we are a totally different team," Davis said. "We focused on knowing our own identity and stopped worrying about what others were expecting. Once we did that, everything changed."

With the postseason and the possibility of another berth in the NCAA tournament looming, Davis continues to lead by example. He has been significantly involved with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is considering entering seminary school when his baseball career concludes.

"Whether he plays at the next level or not, Joel is going to make an incredible impact on this world," Childress said. "His faith is extremely important to him, and I just know he is going to lead an impactful life. There isn't a question in my mind about that."

An added bonus for Davis in coming to College Station was being reunited with his old high school football coach. Huff still coaches at College Station High School, and Davis remains in close contact with their family.

Huff counts himself and his wife as two of Davis' biggest fans, though they may share that distinction with their two children. In fact, Huff's third-grade daughter keeps a framed picture of herself and Davis displayed prominently in her room, and Huff said it isn't uncommon to see a picture of Davis on their refrigerator door.

"One of the special things about Joel is he is such a Christian-based young man," Huff said. "As a role model, he puts everybody on call. He is going to do things that are right. He isn't going to do anything that discredits him, his family or his team. As a coach, you take a lot of joy in seeing someone live like that."

 

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2017 May

"The more we (Aggies) get involved, the more successful Texas A&M is going to be.

It's extremely rewarding to be able to give back to something about which you are passionate. We love coming back over here and love being involved. For as long as I can, I want to try and do more."

Jim and Carmen Sheffield
Diamond Champions Council Members