As a Pitt freshman he showed flashes of what might have been—rushing for 298 yards in six games—but right after that season he ran into trouble with new coach Mike Gottfried, who suspended him from spring drills because, says Davis, "I missed a couple classes and a couple workouts." When asked why he was absent, he says vaguely, "Things came up." In fact, he hardly went to class at all, which made him ineligible for the following year.
Davis didn't bother to try to regroup academically until the fall of 1987, when he enrolled at Montgomery College, a two-year school in Rockville, Md., where he earned a B and two C's, good enough to get him back into Pitt in January '88 on a provisional basis.
Last spring Davis made a final run at the books and participated in some spring practices, but he flunked out of school. "Those are the breaks sometimes," Davis says. A Pitt spokesman says, "I don't think Brian ever really liked to play football." Davis denies that, but if he truly wanted to play, why did he do so little to ensure that he would be eligible to compete? Davis says defensively, "Look, I'm not a student, and I wouldn't say I'm very intelligent. It wasn't so much that I didn't like school. I just didn't apply myself much. Not much at all."
With Davis, everything seems fuzzy. He says he decided to major in psychology because "it sounded interesting." Later he thought about switching to sociology "to go into something with children." He can't recall his exact GPA at Pitt but thinks it was about 2.0. For a while this fall Davis worked in the mail room of a bank in Gaithersburg, Md., but quit in October because, he says, "I had to wear a shirt and tie, and I wasn't into it." He has since been hired by a printing company. "I realize if I'm not playing football," he says, "I guess I'll have to go out and work for a living."
Notice that he says "if he's not playing football, which is his way of hanging on to dreams that probably won't materialize. Davis refers to his "other options" in life, declining to use the words "pro football." Yet with only parts of six games of college ball under his belt, Davis almost certainly has no shot of making the NFL. "I still have the desire to play," says Davis, who made a cameo appearance at the Cleveland Browns' training camp in July before walking away. But what about the ability? "In my mind, yes."
While Davis sometimes blames the Pitt coaches for not keeping a close enough eye on him, he invariably shifts gears and says, "I blame myself. I can't point a finger at anybody but me. It wasn't the school, it wasn't the team." Then he closes his eyes, puts his head back and says, "I'm sure there were some positive things that I learned from this experience, but I just can't think of them."
When Todd Ellis of Page High in Greensboro, N.C., announced that he had narrowed his choice of colleges to 11, the coaches of all 11 of those schools arrived at his doorstep during the same week to pay homage. "I remember when La Veil Edwards [BYU], Dick Crum [ North Carolina] and Vince Dooley [ Georgia! were all in my house at the same time, and my mom was going crazy trying to serve them all pie," says Ellis.
Such is the hysteria that surrounds the pursuit of a blue-chip quarterback, and in the Class of '85 Ellis was the bluest chip of all. He had led Page to three consecutive state championships. After his senior year the American Academy of Achievement, an organization based in Malibu, Calif., selected the 350 best all-around high school students in the nation and then chose the best 25 from among them to receive a Golden Plate award. Ellis got a Golden Plate.
Ellis, somewhat surprisingly, chose to attend South Carolina. North Carolina had been his first love, but he was reluctant to attend a school that is better known for its basketball program. Ellis found Stanford alluring yet intimidating, what with its being Quarterback U and 3,000 miles from home. A big plus for the Gamecocks was that Todd's father, Chuck, was planning to move the family to the Columbia area, where he had a new job, and he told Todd that he was impressed with South Carolina's program.
So frenzied was the recruiting of Ellis that when he went to the Gamecocks' spring game in 1985 as a spectator—he had signed with South Carolina scarcely two months before—he was deluged by autograph requests. Says Ellis, "I was the quarterback they never had and never thought they'd get."