Marcus Davis will always be associated with one of the more bittersweet moments in University of Kentucky sports history.
For the 2009 UK football season opener against Miami (Ohio) in Cincinnati, Davis, then a junior walk-on offensive lineman from Boone County, seemed to be receiving an unusually kind treat from fate.
With UK starting center Jorge Gonzalez suspended for that one game, the 6-foot-1, 283-pound Davis won the battle to start in his place.
It meant a kid who had grown up in the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati rooting for the Bengals was getting a chance to make his first college start before all his family and friends in Paul Brown Stadium.
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"It was a great feeling leading up to it, the excitement," Davis said last week. "Then when the game started, I was in there, playing, it was a great time."
Imagine how great it would have been had Davis made it out of the first quarter.
Instead, on a Kentucky option play to the left, a Miami defender made a dive at UK quarterback Mike Hartline, missed, and fell right into the lower left leg of Davis.
"He hit it right in the sweet spot," Davis said. "I knew it was broken as soon as it happened. It was not facing the way it should have been facing."
Just like that, Davis' Hollywood moment and his entire junior season were over. A broken and dislocated left ankle sidelined him for the rest of 2009.
Flash forward to now. Barring something unforeseen in UK's meeting with Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, that day in Cincy will have been Davis' only college start.
This past fall, in his final season as a football player, Davis saw reserve duty in six Kentucky games.
Yet on this holiday weekend, we're going to take a moment to let you know why Davis deserves to have his name linked in UK sports lore with something other than one star-crossed day in Cincinnati.
When the Southeastern Conference named its "Football Community Service Team," Davis was right there with a spot next to star players such as Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and Florida safety Ahmad Black.
The UK offensive lineman was recognized for having made a spring break mission trip to Nicaragua this year; for volunteering one day a week at a Lexington homeless shelter; for spending time with students at Johnson Elementary School; and for several other community activities.
"And Marcus does a lot of things in the community we don't even know about," Kentucky football publicist Tony Neely said.
Davis was a little bit embarrassed over being honored for, in his view, doing what he should be doing.
"I appreciate that they recognize that I do so much and they think highly of me," he said. "But I don't do it for any award. I believe you have to manage your time and use your podium of being a UK athlete in a way to help others."
Last summer, Davis, a broadcast journalism major, interned for the Herald-Leader, working with our Internet department. He was humble, polite, serious and left a very favorable impression here.
In its own way, the 2010 Kentucky football season was as frustrating for Davis as 2009 had been. UK graduated four senior starters from its '09 line, and Davis rehabbed his broken ankle with the idea he could earn one of those starting spots.
Didn't happen. He lost out in a four-man battle for the open center job and was shifted to a backup guard position. Some in his family wondered whether his status as a walk-on had disadvantaged him in the battle for playing time versus scholarship players.
"If my coach felt like there was a better person in front of me, that's his decision," Davis said. "I need to respect that, and my (family) needs to respect that. There are guys who walked on here and played. One of whom (fullback John Conner) is in the NFL."
Kentucky's first-year offensive line coach Mike Summers says Davis "has been special. He's filled every role asked of him on this team, and he's been selfless, willing to transition between positions for the good of the team. To me, kids like Marcus who are out here because of love of the game epitomize the true spirit of college football."
Davis went through UK's December graduation ceremony. Once the bowl game is over, his plan is to try to find a job as a TV sports reporter.
In his days at Boone County High, Davis was recognized as one of the best offensive linemen in the state. It was his lack of height that kept him from being a big-time recruit.
Still, he turned down scholarship offers from some schools lower down the football food chain for the chance to try his luck at UK.
Knowing what he knows after five years as a Kentucky walk-on, I asked Davis whether he second-guessed that decision?
"I made a decision to come here," he said. "I stuck with my decision. Obviously, I would have liked to play more. I accepted my role on the team. I feel like I've helped the team, helped this program get better by playing my role. And I wouldn't trade the friendships I made here for anything."