HOPE MILLS — Before Keith Davis played linebacker for the University of Southern California’s 1985 Rose Bowl championship football team; before he graduated with the highest grade point average among his teammates; and before he could leg-press 1,800 pounds, Davis struggled as a young man growing up.
Davis, a former linebacker for the New York Giants before an injury ended his career, said his father, who got involved with drugs and crime at a young age, died by suicide when Davis was 4 years old. His mother drank heavily after that, and young Davis attended 19 schools before he was 15 because of the turmoil at home.
Davis spoke Wednesday to students at South View Middle School in Hope Mills, where he used his story to encourage success against all odds.
The title of his speech was “PUSH,” an acronym for Persevere Until Success Happens.
“Not all of them face drugs and alcohol in terms of a family member, but I think young people face struggles in many different ways,” Davis said in an interview after his speech. “Some of them can be bullying, some of them can be with grades, some of them can be with just fitting in. But whatever struggle they face, I think that’s where the theme PUSH comes in.”
Davis, who now travels the country as an inspirational speaker talking to young people, said he came to Cumberland County to be a positive influence on the students.
“Somebody took time to care for me, so I’m letting them know, ‘Hey, I came all the way here because we care for you,’” Davis said.
Davis was joined by another former NFL player, Germard Reed. Davis called students down from the gymnasium bleachers. Some students stood on Reed’s back while he did push-ups, exemplifying the PUSH theme.
Throughout his speech, Davis encouraged the students to pursue their dreams.
In the interview after his speech, Davis said Reed faced academic struggles before becoming the first in his family to graduate from college.
“Being great is being the best that you can be,” Davis said. “So, greatness was (Reed) bringing out the thing called potential, and potential is our unused success. It’s our dormant talent. It’s our capped capabilities. And I think our goal is to inspire every young person to unlock the potential and let’s take the cap off.”
Davis also was scheduled to speak to parents and students across the district on Thursday. His appearance was scheduled from 6 to 7 p.m. at Lewis Chapel Middle School. Dinner will be provided at 5 p.m. while supplies last, school officials said.
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.