By Ted Fleming
Thomas Davis will probably not garner a lot of votes when it comes to the Comeback Player of the Year Award. That’s because the Panthers linebacker is up against some pretty stiff competition. He’s up against Broncos’ Peyton Manning, returning from a year off due to neck issues, and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, who is looked at as a medical marvel after suffering a serious knee injury last December only to come back, seemingly better than ever, as the league’s top rusher.
In any other year, Davis might be an odds-on favorite, because he is also a medical marvel having bounced back from not one, but three serious knee injuries, and is performing at a tremendously high level. The eight-year pro has the second most tackles, 91, of his career in just 13 games, 24 off his career mark of 113 in 2008, the last time he played an entire season.
While few will notice those accomplishments in the comeback category, Thomas Davis has been noticed for a more prestigious honor as the Panthers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually by the NFL honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field.
The 29 year old out of the University of Georgia runs the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation with his wife Kelly, a non-profit organization that “strives to encourage students to develop the essential life and social skills that will make them leaders of tomorrow.” He is also actively involved with the American Heart Association, hunger relief efforts, Levine Children’s Hospital and Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“The award is named after Walter Payton for a reason,” said head coach Ron Rivera after Wednesday’s practice. “[He] was a very generous and giving person in his community of Chicago. For a player like Thomas Davis to be nominated, it means just as much because of what he does in this community of Charlotte. The very unselfish approach he has to the people in this community and to this team, and in my opinion what he has given us in the last few years, even though he hasn’t played a lot of football, is really just a great example of somebody who just won’t quit. I think that rings true for who he is as a person more so than anything else.”
Rivera points out that Davis is both the spiritual and emotional leader of the Panthers and he leads by what he does on the field, calling him “an impact player” who has developed into a nice tandem of linebackers with rookie Luke Kuechly, who might also take home an award of his own – Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“It is definitely a huge honor,” Davis told Panthers.com. “To receive the (nomination) here on this team you have to be voted on by your teammates. I think they recognize all the work that we do in the community with my foundation. But it’s not the reason we do it. We do it because we want to make a difference and impact the lives of children.”
NOTES: Sunday’s home finale against the Raiders is nearing a sellout which will be the 103rd consecutive full house.
A number of players were held out of practice on Wednesday: wide receiver Brandon LaFell (turf toe), running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle), defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist) and center Geoff Hangartner (foot).
Center Thomas Austin was absent because of illness while left tackle Jordan Gross and Thomas Davis were given the day off.
TRANSACTIONS: He was a pregame casualty last Sunday when the Panthers were hosted by the Chargers, so it was no surprise that he would land on injured reserve. Guard Zack Williams came up limping during warm ups and was eventually carted off the field and later diagnosed with a torn ACL. He becomes the 17th player to be placed on IR, one off the club mark set last year. To take his place on the 53 man roster, the team signed free agent Hayworth Hicks, a rookie guard out of Iowa State who has been with the Jets and Chiefs this season.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.