As a freshman in 2008, Riley Davis had the opportunity to dress on varsity when River Hill won its second straight state championship at M&T Bank Stadium. He made sure to soak in the experience, ambitiously thinking ahead to the day when he would be a senior and perhaps have an opportunity to play a bigger role in winning another state title.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the Hawks (11-2) return to M&T Bank Stadium to face Thomas Johnson (10-3) for the Class 3A state championship. A captain and the team's leading tackler at middle linebacker, Davis will get his chance.
Known as "the tackling machine" by everybody at the Clarksville school — coaches, teammates, teachers and janitors alike — Davis has 123 tackles this season to go with two sacks. For the past four weeks, Davis, who also plays tight end, has maintained his high level of play despite breaking a bone in his right hand, which has required him to wear a hard cast. Maintaining a 3.6 GPA , he is still weighing his college options and is considering majoring in business or sports management. In addition to football, Davis is a member of the Student Government Association and likes to snowboard and golf. He also helps plan community events for the Greater Highland Crossroads Association.
What was your impression from the state title game when you were a freshman?
It's a really cool atmosphere. I just remember being on that field, seeing the captains out in the middle of the field and thinking, "Wow, one day this could be my team and I want to do the same thing." I thought about what it would be like leading them to a state title like they did. Looking back on it, it showed me I wanted to enjoy it all and be able to go out there and help lead the team.
How are you feeling going into Saturday's title game?
I think we're pretty confident. I heard they got some big guys over there at Thomas Johnson, but I think we're playing our best ball right now, and that's what Coach [Brian Van Deusen] has always preached — it's not where you start, it's where you finish. We had a little bit of a rough start going 2-2, and ever since then we've just improved each week. Now, it's just a matter of putting it all together in this one last game.
How different is it now getting to the title game as a senior captain?
It's definitely a lot different because you have guys looking up to you, the freshmen, sophomore and juniors. Only four teams in the whole state will win a state championship, so to actually get back there and have that chance is surprising. But, at the same time, we've been working for this goal for the past 3 ½ months, so anything less also would be disappointing.
How much more responsibility comes with playing middle linebacker?
They put me in there last year and I had the responsibility of calling all the plays and getting everybody in the right positions. Last year was an adjustment that I had to get used to, but this year I've been handling the role much better. I'm much more comfortable getting the calls out. Being in the middle of the defense, I have a lot of responsibility because if it gets by the linebackers it's usually my fault.
What do you love most about playing middle linebacker?
The best part is when you see that running back coming at you full speed, just filling that hole and getting that big pop — that's the most fun for me.
What makes a great captain?
First off, I think you have to have respect from all your teammates. Communication is huge. Sometimes, you have captains that are just yelling at everybody and stuff, but I don't think those are the best kind of captains. The best kind of captain is one that has a good feel for the team. You can boss people around and everything and tell them what to do, but if you don't have that mutual respect from them, then you don't have the camaraderie that a team needs. You have to remember that you're always still just a part of the team and you're not above anyone.
What has the River Hill football program meant to you?
It's meant a lot. I remember my little league days, I was never on very good teams, and then you come to River Hill and there's always such high expectations. We have a great fan base, and I think that's what helps make us great. The community supports us so much, they're always behind us. Even when we were down, they were there to pick us up.
Do you have any thoughts on where you want to go to college?
I don't know yet. I'm still weighing between going to a smaller school — I'm still talking to some coaches, so there may be scholarship options — or walking on to a bigger school and going that way.
Which do you think would be more ideal — going to a smaller school or a bigger one?
I'm still talking to James Madison, Towson, Illinois State, so I'll take some official visits after the season, and if I got an offer, I'd really want to go if I liked the environment and everything. But I also don't want to sacrifice the academics just to play football. I feel like I can play with the big-time schools, so if I end up walking on to like Maryland or Viriginia Tech or Penn State or anything like that, I would be comfortable doing that, too.