The Patriots have had success in identifying core special teams players in Bill Belichick's 14-year coaching tenure, in some cases drafting them solely with that in mind. Matthew Slater (fifth round, 2008) and Nate Ebner (sixth round, 2012) are the two most notable players in recent years.
Rookie Kanorris Davis, a college linebacker turned NFL safety, could be the next.
After going undrafted out of Troy in 2013, Davis was surprised when the Patriots reached out with a contract offer because he hadn't heard much from them up to that point.
"When I was doing my training, I never spoke to the Patriots. They came off the radar," Davis said this week at Gillette Stadium during the Patriots' playoff bye week. "They told me they loved my special teams abilities and told me I could make a living on special teams. I'm here today."
The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Davis, who has a chiseled muscle-cut physique, was sold.
He opened the year on the Patriots' practice squad, then was promoted to the roster for two games -- against the Falcons (Sept. 29) and Bengals (Oct. 6) -- before returning to the practice squad until the regular-season finale against the Bills (Dec. 29). Davis got the most recent call-up when cornerback Marquice Cole was injured in practice, and he's filled his special teams role in games, which includes playing the role of "gunner" on the punt coverage team.
He shares his "football journey":
What got him started playing football: "We used to go outside and play tackle football without pads when we were younger. I hit one of my cousins one day and he threw up. That's when people said to me, 'You ought to go out for football. You'll be good.' So I tried out. Ever since then I've been playing."
Positions he first played: "I was a nose tackle. I was 5-7, 5-8 and 167 pounds. When I got to Perry (Ga.) High School, the first three years I played nose tackle and defensive end. My senior year, I played linebacker."
Favorite memories of Perry (Ga.) High School: "My senior year, the playoffs, we were on a roll and making school history. Everybody was treating us like celebrities. We received great respect. The football program came from very little and was built up, and my senior year, everything started to click. We had an awesome team, with guys who ran hard and respected the game. When we went to school, you could sense the higher spirit because we had something going. That feeling was amazing."
Why attending Troy was the right decision: "I had a couple of schools, like Purdue, which offered me a scholarship. It came to a situation where I was going to be short some credits and they didn't know how that was going to go, in terms of me being eligible. So they went ahead with guys who were ready to play. A lot of schools ended up backing out on me at the last minute, but Troy stuck with me throughout the whole thing. The recruiter came to games and stayed on top of me and was telling me, ‘You're going to do this and surprise a lot of people.' They had belief in me and I knew that if I got there and got into a tough situation, they would still take care of me."
Top football memories at Troy: "When I first got there, they pulled me off the field and told me that I wasn't going to be eligible, so I had to end up staying with a teammate, Bear Woods. He was an [All-Conference] linebacker, a great guy and a great personality, and he took me in like a little brother. I slept at his apartment, rent-free, because he said he knew how hard it was being away from home and not knowing anybody. That was the first time I had been away from family. Just getting to know people that way, it made me feel comfortable and gave me the courage to just keep on driving and never give up. Also, my first start, I was on special teams and running down and ended up making a big play. From there, everything built up and I started getting more playing time. Then I ended up on billboards and people started loving me like back home. I felt like I had two homes -- in Georgia and also one in Alabama."
Playing linebacker at Troy and switching to safety: "[The switch] happened in my training [for the draft]. When we did my Pro Day at school, I worked out with the linebackers and also worked out with the safeties on the same day. I went from one drill to another drill, and also played a little safety in the bowl game I got invited to [Raycom College Football All-Star Classic in Montgomery, Alabama]. But it was only like two or three coverages. I ended up leading the team in tackles and had two pass deflections. I actually went into that game playing linebacker, but I also asked to play safety, to give the scouts another perspective of what I could do."
Expectations to play in the NFL: "Basically, I just worked hard and kept my head up, did what I needed to do, and made myself available for anyone that would give me a chance. I got closer with family and friends, kept myself in a stable place, and made sure that no matter what happened I would keep my head up. I had graduated college [majoring in criminal justice] and that was one of my dreams, to graduate with a degree. Once I got that degree, everyone was like, 'I'm really proud of you.' My feeling was, 'I'm not stopping there.' I still wanted to live my dream and every opportunity I got, I went hard. If I made mistakes, I made them going full speed. I kept in mind that if I worked hard, it could take me where I wanted to go. Keeping that faith, keeping that belief, keeping that inside your heart, helped get me here today. Now I need to capitalize on it."
What he loves about football: "I love the contact and speed. It separates the boys from the men. You can go out there and hit someone hard. You can fly around and have fun. When you're dominating, the game is more exciting. You might get tired of the waking up early and being sore, lifting weights when you're sore, but when it's all said and done, you don't want to have any regrets. You keep your mind on the ultimate goal and that's having fun and living for the game."
Role models growing up: "My older sister [Demetrish Harris]. She used to get upset at things, but all of a sudden, she changed and it was like nothing could bother her. She never let anything get under her skin. She stayed calm and she always talked to me about Bible verses, keeping me in her mind and heart at all times. Even though I'm a grown man and I should be making great decisions on my own, she makes sure I stay on the right path. I also have a brother [Dec Davis], and now he's a man of God, and that change alone just made me want to strive to be a better man."
Teams and players he followed as a youngster: "I never really had any favorite teams, but I had a couple of favorite players. Peyton Manning, watching him when he played with the Colts. Troy Polamalu. Still is. And Ray Lewis, I just like his drive for the game. And now one of my favorites is Tom Brady. He's an awesome guy, being in the same locker room with him and how physically he's able to come out in any situation, that really inspires me. It makes me drive to want to keep going."
Summing up his football journey: "When I first started playing, I was just playing to play, just having a lot of fun to stay out of the streets and to stay out of trouble. Now it's to make a living. All the things kind of connect with each other. When you're living the dream, you're living the dream. It's not like you're sleeping and wake up and it's gone. You can live it every day and I'm just going full speed."