Montana State University

Davis' strong arm and big heart benefit many

September 9, 2010 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


As the starting right tackle for the MSU Bobcats, Leo Davis has had a big impact for the MSU football team. The junior from Billings who is majoring in history and education is also the co-president of the MSU American Indian Council and is a mentor for Native American students on campus. Photo by Kelly Gorham, MSU News Service.   High-Res Available

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On the inside of the long line of Leo Davis' biceps are these words: "My brothers' keeper."

It is fortunate that Davis, who is the starting right tackle for the Montana State University Bobcats, has massive arms, because he is keeping and caring for an ever-growing number of brothers.

First of all, there are his four beloved biological brothers. He has tattooed their names (Steven, Matthew, Ryan and Daniel), Indian names and symbols on his arms. His brothers are the greatest reason why Davis dons blue and gold on fall Saturday afternoons rather that the gold and green of Colorado State.

Davis also is referring to his brothers on the Bobcat football team, his family in Browning, Billings and South Dakota, his Native American peers, as well as friends, family and fans.

And Davis has a great many fans at Montana State. That is because Davis represented his team and his university in a nearly unprecedented way four years ago.

Davis was then a senior at Billings Skyview and a tenacious defensive end who was one of Montana's top high school football recruits. He gave Montana State some serious consideration. After all, his parents, Debbie and Doug, are both MSU graduates who met while in college in Bozeman, and he has a passel of relatives who have been Bobcats before him. Yet, larger programs were calling and Davis signed a national letter of intent to play college football at Colorado State.

Then, a few months later, he changed his mind. It is nearly unheard of for a player who commits to a top-level program to choose to drop down a division, but that's what Davis did. He called up the coaches at CSU and said he wanted to go to MSU. Football fans and bloggers wondered if Davis and his change of heart needed a serious examination. Today, Davis is confident that he did the right thing.

"No doubt. I have always wanted to be that guy that others looked up to," said Davis, oblivious that at 6'4" and 295 pounds, nearly everyone looks up to him. "Being a role model for Native Americans has always been important to me."

When Davis talks about his Native American heritage, he is also talking about family. For him, the two are intertwined. He was born in Crow Agency to a nurse and engineer. His mother, Debbie, is an enrolled Lower Brule Lakota. His father, Doug, is an enrolled Blackfeet. They moved to Billings soon after where Leo and his four brothers were raised. He excelled in sports, academics and Montana's non-Indian culture and life in Billings. In this whirl of activity, his parents interjected their heritage and values, and Davis said his life was the best of two worlds.

"Growing up, my parents instilled in us a need to know who we are and where we came from," Davis said."We grew up traditional."

Davis said he spent all of his free time with his grandparents. His father's family lives in Browning, where they have the large and sacred responsibility of being Medicine Bundle Holders, a Blackfeet spiritual duty. His mother's family, which now lives in Lame Deer, is a rodeo family. His mother competed in rodeo through high school and Davis grew up on horses.

"I tried rodeoing," he said with a laugh. "Let's just say, I'm better at football."

He said such an upbringing, which included both time with family on reservations as well as negotiating non-Indian culture, may have helped his successful transition to college.

"I had a good social network when I got here," he said. "People don't understand what (Indians) go through when they come to college. They come from a big social family network, and they don't have that when they (get here)."

Davis said about 20 of his cousins from the Browning area are at MSU as is his younger brother, Steven, a 6'7" redshirt freshmen forward on the Bobcat men's basketball team. He notes proudly that Steven has a nearly perfect grade point in the demanding major of chemical and biochemical engineering.

It didn't take long for Davis to step into a leadership role in MSU's Native community, according to Jim Burns, adviser to the MSU American Indian Council. Davis was recently re-elected as co-president of MSU's American Indian Council, which means he helps Burns with MSU's annual pow wow, a massive undertaking.

"Leo is the real deal. He has a strong work ethic and a charismatic personality," Burns said. "He's genuine and cares about people and it shows with his interaction with others, especially students who might not feel connected. And he always has a smile on his face."

Bobcat head coach Rob Ash concurs on Davis' charisma and ever-present smile.

"Leo (has) one of the best demeanors of anyone on the team," Ash said. "He brings cheer, professionalism and a positive outlook to any room he's in."

There have been some times when others wouldn't have smiled. While Davis was recruited to play defensive line, he was moved to offensive line a year ago. Just as Davis was transitioning, he was injured. Now that he is healthy, Ash said Davis brings an aggressiveness, competitiveness and intensity to the offensive line that Ash suspects come from his time on the defensive side of the ball.

Bobcat offensive line coach Jason McEndoo said that both Leo and Steven Davis are excellent examples of what student-athletes should be.

"I think both (Leo and Steven are) a testament to the way their folks raised them," McEndoo said. "They are good character kids with athleticism and academics.

"I think Native American athletes all over the state look up to Leo and Steven because both kids do things the right way. Kids that are aspiring to be college athletes should look up to those two. It's a neat deal to see them set that kind of example."

Davis said he hopes, like most college football players, to end up in the NFL one day, as did an uncle who played for the Detroit Lions. He's also studying history and education, plans one day to be a teacher and coach, and volunteers helping coach the summer football camp in Browning.

Davis shrugs when asked if the responsibility of being a leader and example to so many sometimes gets a little heavy.

"I feel fortunate that I have these (opportunities)," he said. Then he pauses, and talks like the offensive lineman he is, leading a long and metaphorical block.

"I do this because I know that my brothers are all two steps behind me."

To read other stories about Native American students at MSU, see:

A Nurse's Niche: Soon-to-be MSU graduate aspires to work with the Indian Health Service
http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=8473

Parsons is MSU's first Native American ROTC grad
http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=8305

MSU research project opens doors for Old Elk
http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=6629

Jim Burns (406) 994-4880, jburns@montana.edu