Davis the most modest of champions

Nate Davis always struck me as a gentle giant, a nice guy with amazing athletic ability who used that alone to become a top performer in basketball and in track.

Davis has done some remarkable things in his four years at Heidelberg, on the track and on the basketball court.

His biggest achievement came Saturday, when the senior became a national champion, clearing 7 feet and a-fourth of an inch in the high jump at the Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships in Naperville, Ill.

As a junior, Davis’ ricochet dunk made him a YouTube sensation, and placed him on SportsCenter’s top plays the night the dunk occurred.

I did a story about the attention Davis was getting a few days later. I watched the play with him and we talked about it.

But the person who seemed the least impressed by the whole thing was Davis. If anything, he seemed uncomfortable talking about his achievements.

This year has been a little different. Davis is just as humble and polite as ever, but talking to him Saturday after taking first, he had more to say than he had in the previous four years.

“I would say just having fun was the biggest key going into competition,” he said. “I’ve been told have fun, just don’t let it go to your head.”

I predict it won’t.

Davis is coming off a brilliant basketball season that landed him on the Ohio Athletic Conference first team. In a loss to John Carroll, Davis had 25 points and 23 rebounds.

Davis said he had a different approach for his senior season.

“What is different about this year… time was winding down,” Davis said. “I wanted to go about it, grasp everything and let everything come to me, but go for it, take it.”

Because of basketball, Davis didn’t even compete much in indoor track this season. His coach, Briana Hess, said the national meet was just Davis’ third of the season. But he was able to qualify for nationals anyway.

I asked Hess if she thought Davis winning a national championship Saturday was realistic going in.

“That was the goal,” she said. “We came with four coaches just to cheer him on. Nate is an amazing athlete. He forgets to have fun sometimes and he gets nervous and he hinders, but today he jumped exactly how he should.”

I asked Hess about whether she wondered – as I had – if Davis had that killer instinct that we non-athletes talk about all the time.

“I definitely saw it today, I knew he had the killer instinct you’re talking about, but any athlete will tell you there are good days and bad days,” said Hess, who knows something about big competitions.

The Seneca East graduate won 11 Mid-American Conference titles running at the University if Toledo, and at one time held the American record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

And Hess knew that Saturday was a good day for Davis.

Davis said part of the reason for that was the competition he faced.

“Everybody that jumped today brought it, it put the realization that I had to bring it too,” he said.

Davis said he was torn at the end, knowing that if other competitors missed their jumps, it would help him. But Davis’ nature is to hope others do as well as they can.

“You want the other person to miss, but you want them to do well,” he said. “All that was going through my mind.”

“He’s the most modest guy, very humble,” Hess said. “He knows he did good today but you won’t hear him talking about it all the time.”

Even if he has every right to.