By Erik Engle
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Very few things in sports are as tough as playing football in the middle of an icy Chicago winter. The bone-chilling temperatures make every hit feel like a car crash, while the slick snow makes cleats slip and slide like a pair of Adidas on an ice-skating rink.
For senior slotback Malcolm Davis, this grueling image brings back fond childhood memories of learning the game that has helped propel him through college, and life.
"These early morning practices, it's normally not that bad compared to what I've practiced in and played in before. It's not really anything," Davis said. "I will say I'm definitely not as tough skinned as I used to be. I used to be able to go out in like 20 degrees, 10 degrees and now like 40 is a little chilly."
The other major factor that shaped Davis into the player he is today was his father, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis. While his dad was always his biggest role model, Wendell was not the type of father to push his son to any ridiculous extremes
"He also never pressured me to play football," Davis said. "He never was having me out in the backyard doing crazy drills or anything like that. He just, you know, whenever I had a question about anything, he would answer it for me always."
In fact, it wasn't football that originally drew Davis into the sports world. His first time competing athletically was at five years old when he started playing basketball at the YMCA.
"You know, with the low rims," Davis said. "I wanted to excel in sports one way or another. Both of my parents played sports, so I was interested in that."
While it was his father who played a big role in his football development, it was his mother, former Northwestern women's basketball player Patricia Davis, who taught him how to hoop.
"She helped me out a lot when I was playing basketball and when I was running track. She was my coach when I played basketball when I was really young."
Davis made the transition from basketball to football in third grade at eight years old. He wanted to play earlier but, due to his small stature, was forced to wait one more season.
"I tried to play in second grade, but they wouldn't let me because I was too small," Davis said. "I started playing in third and, ever since then, I've been playing."
From then on, Davis found his place in various backfields through the years, finding his home on the field at running back.
Though Davis' football abilities were forged in the frozen tundra on the banks of Lake Michigan, he refined them in the San Francisco Bay Area after moving to Palo Alto just as he was gearing up for his freshman year in high school.
His family relocated to the West Coast after his father traded in his helmet and shoulder pads for a whistle and clipboard to coach the wide receivers for the San Francisco 49ers.
"It was sad leaving all of my friends I had made back in Chicago, but luckily it was a great situation, moving up to the Bay Area and to Palo Alto," Davis said. "The adjustment was good, I was still able to play football and I made a lot of friends playing sports. I learned to love the area."
Despite growing up in the locker room, Davis never banked entirely on making it as a professional athlete. According to Davis, his mother always did her best to make sure that he had a well-rounded upbringing, with a big focus on academics. She made sure that Davis wasn't always talking about going to the NFL without having a backup plan.
"I think that was definitely part of the reason I chose to come to Cal Poly," Davis said. "I was able to get a great education here and play football at the same time, so I couldn't really turn that down. Obviously playing football is fun, but the [degree] will take me further."
Today, the fifth-year senior is mainly focused on two things — mentoring younger players and earning his degree. Even though Malcolm Davis was supplanted in the starting lineup by the Mustangs' young talent at slotback, he hasn't been discouraged from trying to teach everything he knows to Cal Poly's next guard of student-athletes.
"Just having an opportunity to leave these young guys with a foundation to go forward is kind of my goal right now, so they can have fun while they're doing this and they can continue to pass that on to the new freshmen who come in and the guys after that," Davis said. "This is a great place and I think it has a lot of potential to be a very successful program with the right pieces and the right direction."
Davis is doing his best to enjoy every remaining minute of Cal Poly, but he has started looking forward to life after football. As a kinesiology major, Davis is trying to break into the health and wellness field. Ultimately, the only thing that is certain for Davis right now is his desire to move back to the Windy City.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity and for the chance to be here. I'll graduate and be on my way."
Erik Engle is a Cal Poly journalism alumnus from Petaluma, Calif.