For Ed Davis, it was worth the wait.
And the Michigan State linebacker did plenty of waiting. An All-America candidate going into his senior year, Davis suffered a knee injury requiring surgery weeks before last season’s opener. His Spartans rolled to a second straight Big Ten title, and he had to watch.
Having redshirted as a freshman, Davis would have to apply for a sixth year of eligibility. That would require finishing the requirements for his degree, which Davis took summer classes to do. Brandon Clemons learned in June that he would be granted a sixth year of eligibility. But Davis waited.
Preseason camp rolled by. Then the opener against Furman. Still no news. Davis periodically asked academics and compliance officials, “Have you heard anything?” And they’d respond by vaguely addressing a recent chat with the NCAA, but nothing particularly uplifting.
“I didn’t know for sure,” Davis said, “but I thought I had a pretty good chance. It was a hard process, basically just — you’re waiting on somebody to make a decision. And you don’t know what you’re gonna do.”
On Sept. 9, Davis finally found out what he was “gonna do:” play football. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio announced his senior linebacker had been granted a sixth year and soon began mentioning the possibility of Davis playing the following Saturday against Notre Dame. But that didn’t happen.
Davis had to meet his next challenge, getting game-ready. For a while, he had to regularly take days off from practice when his knee got sore. Once that was in good shape, he had to get his wind back.
His brief showings against Wisconsin and Indiana, neither of which produced any tackles, indicated the work that still needed to be done. Against BYU on Oct. 8, he saw, as he called it, “my first time in real live action back-to-back-to-back-to-back.”
His stamina and knee strength may have been where he wanted it, but Davis still found himself nervous going in. When faced with contact, would he be as strong as he thought?
A couple plays into the game, Davis remembers getting chopped. A brief moment of fear filled his mind. Then he got up.
Oh, I’m fine, he remembered thinking. I can do this. Let’s go.
Still, that game and the next three saw Davis account for one total tackle. He had more work to do. In practice, he made a conscious effort to implement moves he hadn’t used since before the injury.
“(I’ve worked on) taking on linemen or rushing off the edge of linemen or having a lineman on my back,” Davis said. “Me being able to bend the edge and not thinking about my knee or am I putting too much pressure on it.”
He also put an emphasis on taking on blocks, covering tight ends and doing it all with proper technique. It clearly had an impact, as Davis learned Tuesday he’d have a shot at a starting spot against Michigan. A good week of practice led the staff to give him that chance.
Eight tackles later, Davis had the second-most productive outing of his career statistically. If he wasn’t 100 percent, he would later say, he was at least at 95 percent. He still can’t quite do everything he could before, but Saturday put him on course to get to that point in the next few weeks.
“If there is one player on the field that you noticed consistently it was Ed Davis on our defensive field,” Dantonio said. “I thought it was his best football game thus far this year. He ran and tackled and looked like he had in the past, and that was a bright spot. It was great to see that.”
He was more productive than all previous games combined. But asked about his goals for the rest of the year, Davis didn’t mention a certain number of tackles or hopes of impressing NFL scouts.
“Finish 4-0,” he said, adding that he wants to help younger players improve for seasons to come.
Fifteen months removed from the injury, Davis finds himself in position to get back to where he was. And that’s way better than where he could’ve been.
“If I didn’t get it, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” he said of the NCAA’s decision. “I really didn’t know. It was a hard process, but I’m glad it’s over with.”