DALLAS | Classes before catches.
Corey Davis is Western Michigan’s first consensus All-American and the career leader in receiving yardage in NCAA history. He’ll close out his career Monday in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin as the Broncos attempt to finish 14-0.
That Davis spent his career at a MAC instead of a Big Ten Conference school can be traced to the fact that as a senior at Wheaton-Warrenville South, a high school football power in suburban Chicago, Davis didn’t have the grades or the ACT score to qualify for a scholarship.
“I almost didn’t make it,” Davis said Thursday during a media session. “My senior year, I sort of woke up to what I had to do. I have a lot of people who helped me and looking back I realize I’m blessed to be where I am.”
Davis became friends with Ryan Graham during youth football. Davis’ family was struggling to provide for their kids and Don Graham, Ryan’s father, offered to become Corey’s legal guardian. It was Don Graham who found a tutor to help Davis raise his grades and reach the qualifying ACT score needed to become eligible.
“The Grahams have been a big influence on me and they changed my life,” Davis said. “It’s because of them I’m where I’m at today. I hope to be like them some day and give back the less fortunate and change lives.”
But because of his academic uncertainty, Davis had no scholarship offers. Fortunately for Davis, P.J. Fleck had just been hired at Western Michigan.
“I was looking for anybody that was interested in our program whatsoever,” Fleck said. I called (Wheaton-Warrenville South) coach Ron Muhitch and he said, ‘Well, Coach, there's a reason why you called me. And do I have the guy for you! This guy is perfect for you. Actually, P.J., I think he needs you.’”
At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Davis has breakaway speed, is a precise route runner and has huge, supple hands. It’s easy to envision him starting for any FBS program. After 67 receptions for 941 yards as a freshman, Davis has had at least 1,400 receiving yards each of the last three seasons. As Western Michigan swept to the MAC championship and a 13-0 record, Davis compiled 91 catches for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Once he arrived at Kalamazoo it didn’t take long for Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to realize they had a star wide receiver.
“He made a ‘wow’ play his first day of practice running with the third team,” Ciarrocca recalled. “The second day, he made another play. The third day, I told the quarterback, ‘Throw it to that guy.’ I just wanted to see if he could make the play. It was a go route and Corey jumped up and made the play.
“I was like, ‘That’s the third day in a row he made me say wow.’ I talked to P.J. and he said, ‘Make him a starter.’”
Davis freely admits that he’s “always hated going to classes.” But he realized that academics was his path to college and perhaps a chance to play in the NFL. His work ethic in the class room carries over.
“Nobody likes to do things they’re not good at,” Ciarrocca said. “He put effort into his football and I think that gave him confidence he could succeed academically. I think he realized that if, ‘Hey, if I work hard, I can do anything.’ He has to grind in the class room and he applies his work ethic for all the aspects of his life.
“That’s what our program is about. The same things that make you successful on the field makes you successful in the classroom. Our program isn’t about football, it’s about life. We’re helping some of our players change their lives.”
Photos courtesy Western Michigan Media Relations