DIXON – It’s been a little less than a year since Dixon wide receiver/linebacker Eli Davidson suited up for a football game, but to him it feels longer.
The last time he played a full varsity football season in 2021, he had a different surrounding cast with the exception of a few teammates. This season has been quite a change.
“It’s great [to be back]. It almost feels like a whole different team, because I was a freshman the last time I really played. I mean, I played one game last year, but from when I started, everyone’s pretty much graduated at this point,” Davidson said. “There’s only a couple of us left, so I’m just super excited to play again. Sitting out, missing all year of basketball, all year of baseball, everything, it felt like more than just one year. But I’m super excited to be back, and I like what we’re doing with our program this year.”
Davidson was off to a hot start in 2022 before he tore his ACL. In a 34-6 Week 1 win over Oregon, he caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, an 11-yard receiving score off the hand of quarterback Tyler Shaner.
Then Week 2 happened. In the first half against North Boone, on what should have been a routine play, misfortune struck. Davidson was charging hard up the middle on an A-gap blitz, nothing out of the ordinary. However, as he broke through the pocket en route to the backfield, he planted awkwardly off his left leg, then collapsed to the ground. That’s when he felt the ligament tear and the pain set in. An MRI later confirmed it was a torn left ACL.
Davidson had a feeling then and there that his season was over.
“I pretty much knew right when it happened. I’ve never had any season-ending injury or surgery or anything like that, but when it happened I definitely knew that it was in jeopardy,” Davidson said. “That was a little different type of pain than I think I’ve ever felt before, but my whole team was there on the sideline, patting me on the back, telling me, I’m going to be all right.
“So it gave me a little motivation to try and fight back as quick as I could, and I was out there the next week watching from the sideline.”
“It was tough, because you put in the work the whole year prior to get to that point. You get out on the field, and it gets taken away,” Davidson said. “It feels unfair, but you look at it, it happens to kids all over the place and it’s a part of the game. It’s unfortunate that it happens. I’m sure everyone wishes injuries didn’t happen, but you’ve just gotta deal with it, take it on the chin and work harder to get back and have a good year next year.”
Ever since, Davidson has been fighting to get back on the field. The recovery process was a long and difficult one, but it’s finally behind him. With the help of his surgeon and physical therapists at KSB, Davidson is back to full strength.
“I had physical therapy for a couple of months. I got cleared after about 5 1/2 months,” Davidson said. “I was on crutches for four weeks after the surgery, and then I had this bike in my house that the surgeon gave me. It kind of guided my legs back into extending and pushing and getting a little strength back.
“I had the best surgeon in the world, Dr. Van Thiel – he was awesome – and then the surgeons at KSB or the physical therapists, they got me back working and right where I needed to be.”
Now 100% healthy and uninhibited in his movements, Davidson is excited to retake the field. The junior two-way starter will sport a knee brace this season, but insists he’s fully recovered.
“I’m back to 100%. You’ll see me, I’ll have a knee brace on, but that’s just the doctor’s orders,” Davidson said. “I feel great. I’m back to the player I was before it happened.”
Coach Jared Shaner and son Tyler Shaner are expecting big things from Davidson this season. Having seen him in practices for two years and having watched him play defensively as a varsity freshman in 2021 and in the first game last season, they know his potential as well as anybody.
This year, they believe he’ll be an offensive weapon and a tackling machine.
“He’s a really good athlete, and a really good football player. We knew that as a freshman coming in. ... Right now, he’s the starting slot receiver for us,” coach Shaner said. “He’s one of those guys when you need a play to be made, you can put the ball around him and he tends to make plays for you. And then defensively, inside linebacker, just really good instincts. Reads well, understands football, and he’s never far from the ball at the end of the play, so I would anticipate that he’ll be one of our leading tacklers.
“On both sides of the ball, he’ll make a difference for us.”
Tyler Shaner believes Davidson’s presence alone makes a difference.
“It means a lot in terms of intelligence and being an athlete. Eli is one of the smartest guys on our team, hands down, if not the smartest, and he’s also one of the most athletic kids in our program and the school, as well. Just him being able to come back and even just his presence being there, even if he can’t practice, his presence being there, being able to help kids and point them in the right direction is huge.”
Davidson feels he can make an impact, as well, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. He has high hopes for this season and believes his coaches are setting him up for success.
“I think coach [Tyler] Mattson, our defensive guy, he’s putting me in a position to go make plays, and I’m going to try and do my best to do what he tells me to do, and I think he puts me in a great position to go help our team,” Davidson said. “And then on offense, when the coach calls my number, I’m going to try and make a play. If not, I’m going to go out there and give 100% effort, block if the play is going the other way.
“However, they want to use me, I’m more than willing to do whatever they want me to do.”