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April 09, 2012
After missing all of 2011, Arkansas Heisman hopeful Knile Davis is healthy and running hard, keeping alive the memory of the man who put him on the path to stardom
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April 09, 2012

A Spring In His Step

After missing all of 2011, Arkansas Heisman hopeful Knile Davis is healthy and running hard, keeping alive the memory of the man who put him on the path to stardom

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"O.K., then we are going to work out every day. We are going to get you better."

"Yes, sir," Knile replies. "I'm ready."

Davis has always been fast. At age six he played center for the Sunnyside Cowboys, a Pop Warner team in Houston. The biggest player on the roster—"I was tall and chubby," he says—Davis wanted to move to running back, but his coach didn't think he had enough speed. Then one day the coach held a contest: a 100-yard dash, with a dollar going to the winner. "I won that dollar," Davis says. "And from that day forward I was our running back."

Morgan had no football experience and no background in training young athletes, but he knew how to work. Growing up in Crowley, La., he spent his summers in rice fields and rice mills, sunup to sundown, harvesting and lifting heavy bags of rice. In 2005 he was a foreman for a company that repaired railroads throughout Texas. "Warren prided himself on being able to outwork any man," says Regina. "He feared no one or no thing. Knile worshipped him. Their bond was just a thing of beauty."

Morgan's training methods were unorthodox. Under Pops's tutelage, 15-year-old Knile would do 10 sets of 10 reps of 200 pounds on the bench press in the garage, and then 10 sets of 10 with 50 pounds on a curl bar. In the backyard Pops would tell Knile to leap over a waist-high fence, over and over, in 30-second intervals. He would perform 30 reps, exerting himself until he could barely stand, then resume jumping.

Knile told his friends of his workouts with Pops and asked them to join. One day after school, when Knile was a sophomore at Marshall High, a few of his buddies walked into the garage, ready to take orders from Pops. Two hours later they left, vowing never to return. "Your stepdad is craaaaaazy," a friend told Knile. "I won't survive another round with him. Good luck, bro."

Knile relished these challenges—and reveled in their results. By 16, he could bench-press 315 pounds, by far the most on his team. "Even as a freshman he looked like he was a senior," says Dennis Brantley, Davis's coach at Marshall. "Pops had him working hard, and it showed. He was fast, and boy, was he strong. He had all the measurables."

It's a winter evening in 2006, and Knile is 15 years old. He and Pops lug a 70-pound punching bag out of the garage and hoist it into the trunk of the Mustang. The two drive down the street to nearby Community Park. Pops attaches a rope to the bag, ties it around Knile's waist and tells him to run up a steep hill. The boy does as he is told.

As people in the park stare and point, Knile pumps his legs, feeling as if he's pulling a mountain. When he reaches the crest of the hill, Pops tells him to bring the bag back down and repeat the run. Knile won't stop churning his legs for more than an hour. "You're not just going to be a running back at any school," Pops says. "You're going to be a running back in the SEC. That's where the best football is played, and that's where you're going to go."

Knile felt he had to do something. When he was 15, his mother lost her job as a social worker and couldn't afford to buy school clothes for Knile or her two older children, son Kobe and daughter Raegan. So one day after school Knile walked into a local Whataburger and asked the manager, "Can I have a job?"

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