Tyler Davis can’t remember it. He can’t explain it, either.
He just knows, at some level, that the circumstances of his birth still are with him, even as he prepares for his senior football season as a star defensive back at Lenape High School in Medford, Burlington County.
Davis looks like an athlete. He’s 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds with the speed, tenacity and instincts to have picked up 26 scholarship offers before committing last Friday to the University of Delaware.
He lines up at cornerback but plays like a linebacker, specializing in run support and crisp, sure tackles.
“He arrives at the football with a violence and an intensity that you can’t coach,” Lenape coach Joe Wojceichowski said.
But beneath that athletic ability and behind that competitive fire is something else, according to Davis and his parents, Don and Donna. It’s an innate awareness, they believe, of the struggle for life of his first three months after being born premature.
“I don’t know how to explain how,” Davis said. “I just know it’s something that’s always a part of me.”
Don Davis, who played football for a year at West Virginia University before finishing his career as a football and baseball standout at Edinboro (Pa.) University, is “100% convinced” that his son’s outlook on life was shaped by those three months in neonatal intensive care.
“He came into this world fighting,” Don Davis said. “That’s who he is. He fought to survive, and he’s always going to fight.”
Tyler Davis was born three months ahead of his May 22 due date. He weighed 2 pounds and 12 ounces. He was 14 ½ inches long.
“He looked like a ruler,” Donna Davis said.
Tyler spent three months in an incubator. Doctors and nurses were concerned that he had developed bleeding on his brain, although that was not the case.
“They weren’t sure he was going to make it,” Donna Davis said. “They definitely prepared us for that. It was touch-and-go.”
Tyler went home around his original due date. He was 6 1/2 pounds. He has experienced no side effects, developing into a standout football and baseball player, as well as a top student and school leader who has offers from several Ivy League programs as well as Air Force, Army and Navy.
“What makes him special is his competitive drive,” Wojceichowski said. “You think ‘cornerback’ and you think finesse and coverage skills, and he has that. But he’s such a physical football player.
“The kid wants to win every single thing he does. He’s so fun to coach because he’s going to come to work every single day with maximum effort.”
Tyler Davis said he picked Delaware because of a family connection — Donna Davis graduated from the school in Newark — as well as his relationship with Blue Hens coaches and his desire to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the top NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision leagues in the country.
“It kind of felt like a family fit,” Tyler Davis said. “I could just see myself fitting there, playing in that stadium, playing for that school.”
At Lenape, which is scheduled to open a pandemic-shortened season Oct. 2, Davis has developed into an impact player for a team that was 10-2 in 2019 and projects as one of the top public-school squads in the state in 2020. He generated 30 tackles with two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and a team-high four interceptions as a junior.
“He hardly played as a freshman because he broke his leg,” Wojceichowski said. “As a sophomore, he wasn’t there yet, but you could still see it — I would tell him, ‘The way you ran down on punt team, competing like that was your Super Bowl.’ ”
Don and Donna Davis hope that their son’s remarkable road to athletic and academic excellence will inspire parents of children who are born premature.
“This is what we hoped, that if he ever got to this stage, that we could share his story,” Don Davis said. “Other parents, they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what the future holds. But if they look at him, they might say, ‘Wow, things can work out OK.’ ”
Tyler Davis said he’s proud to serve as an example.
“It could be inspiring to other parents that you can live a normal life,” he said.
Tyler said he was around 9 or 10 when his parents talked with him about his first three months. He said he didn’t fully grasp it until a few years later.
He said he still sometimes is struck by the significance of his start in life.
“Mostly like when I tell people and they see me now and have a hard time believing it,” Tyler said. “I guess hard work comes above all. If you like working hard, you can come out of just about anything.