Davis went to live with his mother and stepfather in Elmira, New York, when he was 12, and soon proved an athletic prodigy. He played baseball, basketball and football at Elmira Free Academy, earning high school All-American honors in the latter two sports. Davis led the school's basketball team to 52 consecutive victories, and some felt his natural gifts were best suited for the hardwood. However, Davis' first love was football. He was heavily recruited by some of college football's top programs, but was swayed by NFL great Jim Brown, who convinced Davis that Syracuse University, Brown's alma mater, would be a welcoming place for a young black athlete.
Express Track to Stardom
Davis rang up 877 rushing yards on an outstanding 7.8 yards per carry during the 1960 season, and followed with another 823 rushing yards in 1961 to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation's top player. Davis capped his college career with 140 rushing yards in an MVP performance at the 1961 Liberty Bowl, and finished with 2,386 total rushing yards on 6.6 yards per carry and 35 touchdowns, all school records.
Davis' honors and accomplishments on the gridiron were matched only by the adversity he faced off the field; as a black athlete playing many games in the South, he was the victim of racism on several occasions. The most publicized incident occurred when he was selected as the Cotton Bowl MVP in 1960. Davis was told by organizers that he would be allowed to accept his award at the post-game banquet, and would immediately have to leave the segregated facility.