In the spring of 2012, a new face arrived in the UCF locker room, only this student-athlete was certainly not a true freshman enrolling early with the Knights.

Kelly Davison suited up in Black and Gold after spending five years with the Marines out of high school. His first deployment following boot camp was to Fallujah, Iraq.

For his inspirational service as well as dedication to the UCF football program, Davison has been nominated for the 2013 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America.

Coordinated by the staff at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the award was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.” The second recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award will be announced on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.

Serving for More

After joining the UCF football team as a walk-on in the spring of 2012 and working on the scout team all last season as he dressed for every game, Davison is a reserve right tackle for the 4-1 Knights who are currently tied for first in the American Athletic Conference standings with a 1-0 record.

Because he grew up in the small town of Washington, Ind., not many people would expected Davison to have viewed the world on a much larger scale compared to many of his teammates. But he not only brings experience to the gridiron at 28-years old, but also a perspective on life and what it truly means to sacrifice.

Davison graduated from Washington High School in 2004 and had every intention of attending college, but said that one morning he woke up and believed he was being called on to serve a higher purpose.

“I felt an urge that I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to do something more with my life,” Davison said. “I wanted to do something that was meaningful.”

He went to sign up at the Marines recruiting offices that same week and about a month later he was training in boot camp, which Davison said was much like football training camp, but there was no going home. He was only 19 at the time and was the first in his family to serve in the Marines. By the following year, Davison was sent off to Fallujah, Iraq, for the first of his three deployments. He served for five years, with a return trip to Fallujah in 2007 and served as a training officer at the American base in Okinawa on his third and final deployment. When asked what he took away from his time in the military, he discussed growing up in a place unfamiliar to home.

“It taught me what was really out in the world,” Davison explained. “The best thing was that it turned me into a man, really fast.”

While Davison’s classroom may have been tours in Iraq and American bases nearly 6,500 miles away from Indiana, the marine made sure he kept up with one of the things he loved most: football. Wherever he was in the world, Davison said he would watch football and he really missed playing the game that had been a key part of his life growing up. After his time with the Marine Corps, Davison returned home, where he attended Vincennes University and was a member of the track team before transferring to Valencia Community College and eventually UCF in 2011.

“I missed the game and wanted to be part of a team again after I got out of the military,” he said. “I missed the camaraderie and I missed the physicality of the game. I missed being a part of something more and I wanted to run out on that sideline during a game and have the whole stadium cheering. Anybody who’s ever had that feeling, misses that feeling and I had an opportunity to get it back, so I took it.”

After meeting with head coach George O’Leary, Davison joined the Knights as a walk-on in the spring of 2012 and was a key player on the scout team and now contributes on special teams. At 28-years old, Davison is much older than many of the players and is even 10 years older than some of the younger players.

“We always call him grandpa and we’re always making jokes, but Kelly brings a different dimension to the offensive line,” fellow senior Jordan McCray said.

Davison’s teammates see his leadership and experience as a benchmark of holding yourself accountable and as an example of what it means to sacrifice and work hard. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe described Davison’s character as selfless and sees that Davison’s teammates look up to him.

Davison says he is not too much of a vocal leader but does his best to listen and help out anyone who asks for his advice. As one of the few senior leaders for the Knights, Justin McCray compliments Davison on his work ethic and values the life perspective Davison brings to the table. Davison has shared some of his stories with the offensive linemen, but always keeps things in perspective through experience by relaying that things can be much worse.

“He’s just a good guy that seems to have his mind in the right place,” teammate Chris Martin said. “Obviously, he’s been through a lot and that’s taught him a lot of things that most of us would never be able to understand, but we need that type of role model on the team and I’m glad he’s able to fill that role with us.”

Davison said he has no regrets and has thoroughly enjoyed each moment on this journey. He appreciates Coach O’Leary and the opportunity to play here at UCF and hopes to carry that sense of belonging after he graduates and pursues a career as a high-school biology teacher and football coach. But for now his goal is to just work as hard as he can for the team.

“Coming here has been awesome. This is a great program. This team works really hard. It reminds me a lot of the Marine Corps just in the work ethic of the team and how hard we drive, how hard we push and how hard we want to be the greatest,” Davison said.