There have been a lot of great moments that have occurred in Montana State University’s Indian Club meeting room over the last few decades, but Bobcat fans could argue that the biggest moment of all may have been when Debbie Thompson Davis and Douglas Davis first bumped into each at a committee meeting more than 25 years ago.
And big is the operative term. The Davis’ two oldest sons have both grown to stellar heights and now anchor the front lines for their respective sports at MSU. Leo, a junior majoring in history and education, is the 6-foot-4-inch starting right tackle for the Bobcat football team. Steven, a 6-foot-7-inch redshirt freshman majoring in chemical engineering, is a forward for the 'Cat roundballers.
It would seem that if there were ever two athletes that were born to be Bobcats, it would be Leo and Steven Davis, who both excelled at their respective sports at Billings Skyview before coming to Bozeman to don the blue and gold.
Yet, both Davis brothers, the two oldest of Debbie and Doug’s five sons, chose MSU after considering other schools and other opportunities, and say the choice to become Bobcats is sweeter because of that.
Leo Davis was one of Montana’s top high school football recruits when he was a senior. He gave Montana State some serious consideration. Yet, larger programs were calling and Davis signed a national letter of intent to play college football at Colorado State.
Then, a few months later, he changed his mind. It is nearly unheard of for a player who commits to a top-level program to choose to drop down a division, but that’s what Davis did. He called up the coaches at CSU and said he wanted to go to MSU. Football fans and bloggers wondered if Davis and his change of heart needed a serious examination. Today, Davis is confident that he did the right thing.
“No doubt. I have always wanted to be that guy that others looked up to,” said Davis, oblivious that at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, nearly everyone looks up to him. “Being a role model for Native Americans has always been important to me.”
It didn’t take long for Davis to step into a leadership role in MSU’s Native community, according to Jim Burns, adviser to the MSU American Indian Council. Davis was recently re-elected as co-president of MSU’s American Indian Council, which means he helps Burns with MSU’s annual pow wow, a massive undertaking.
“Leo is the real deal. He has a strong work ethic and a charismatic personality,” Burns said. “He’s genuine and cares about people and it shows with his interaction with others, especially students who might not feel connected. And he always has a smile on his face.”
Bobcat head coach Rob Ash concurs about Davis’ charisma and ever-present smile.
“Leo (has) one of the best demeanors of anyone on the team,” Ash said. “He brings cheer, professionalism and a positive outlook to any room he’s in.”
Steven Davis has also had a major impact on Native American students around the state, Burns said. Steven, who has nearly a perfect 4.0 grade point average in chemical and biochemical engineering (he has one A-), decided to take MSU basketball coach Brad Huse’s invitation to be a preferred walk-on two years ago. The 2009 co-valedictorian at Skyview, Davis picked MSU over Stanford, Dartmouth, Notre Dame and other top universities who recruited him as a Native American scholar.
“Montana State has always been close to my heart with a lot of family and cultural ties to this place,” Steven said. “I’d have to say that I made the decision for many of the same reasons my brother did – to be the voice, leader, role-model, and ambassador of my faith and my culture that we have been raised to be.”
He said that in his college search he knew he wanted a challenging college experience that would ultimately yield intellectual, physical and spiritual growth.
“And when it came down to it, Montana State presented that challenge and opportunity that the other schools couldn’t provide,” he said. “And honestly, looking back on it now, I wouldn’t trade this decision for the world.”
Debbie Davis thinks there is another reason both of her sons elected to stay in Montana.
“I think the older boys just didn’t want to be far from their younger brothers. They still wanted to be part of their lives.”
Leo Davis said his family is close and that while he and his brothers excelled at school, their parents also steeped them in the values of their Native culture. Debbie is enrolled Lower Brule Lakota and Doug is an enrolled Blackfeet.
"Growing up, my parents instilled in us a need to know who we are and where we came from,” Davis said.”We grew up traditional.”
Now that Leo and Steven are at MSU, Debbie and Doug rarely miss a home football or basketball game and are frequently on campus to support their sons and other Native students and programs.
“They are just an amazing family,” Burns said. “They are just regular folks, but their commitment to family has been very obvious. They’ve made a lot of sacrifices for their sons, good sacrifices. And you can see the outcome.”
As an example, Burns tells the story of last spring when Steven Davis was asked to show the MSU men’s basketball locker room to a group of young basketball players from Browning and the Blackfeet Nation.
“There is an area where the grade point average of the team member is posted and Steven has the highest grade point average on the team,” Burns said. “The boys noticed that. Steven told the boys that their name could be on that wall one day, too. That they could play college ball, hold onto their (Native) values and earn the best grades on the team. It made a huge impact on those boys.”
Bobcat offensive line coach Jason McEndoo, Leo’s position coach, agrees that the Davis brothers are examples of what student athletes should be.
“I think both (Leo and Steven are) a testament to the way their folks raised them,” McEndoo said. “They are good character kids with athleticism and academics.
“I think Native American athletes all over the state look up to Leo and Steven because both kids do things the right way. Kids that are aspiring to be college athletes should look up to those two. It’s a neat deal to see them set that kind of example.”