SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — They aren’t twins and they aren’t even brothers, but Meshak Williams has felt Adam Davis’ pain.
The two Kansas State defensive ends grew up in Georgia, but didn’t know each other. Yet today, the two seniors couldn’t be closer to each other, anchoring the Wildcats’ defensive line and a big reason K-State is playing in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon on Thursday.
Williams and Davis grew up 128 miles from each other, but their friendship and brotherly bond wasn’t formed until the two wound up at Hutchinson Community College where they played one season together. Davis was a sophomore and Williams was a freshman.
Instantly the Georgians had a bond, one that continued to grow and led them to K-State — Davis first, in time for the 2010 season, while Williams arrived a year a later.
“Meshak is my brother,” Davis said.
But it was an unfortunate accident in the weight room that would make the biggest impact on their lives and solidify what is sure to be a lifelong friendship.
“When I heard about it, it hurt me because I knew the potential he had to be,” Williams said this week.
Davis was doing a leg press, just his third or fourth workout after moving to Manhattan, when with one thrust he felt something give out. Instantly, he knew it was bad.
“I felt everything in my back just collapse,” said Davis, who has 53 tackles – 12 for loss — and 7.5 sacks this season.
Davis suffered a slipped disk and had a pinched nerve that caused numbness and pain to radiate down his left leg to his ankle. It got worse with each passing day. Some days he couldn’t even walk.
Doctors told him he would likely be able to carry on with a normal life with surgery, but that he was finished with football.
“I wasn’t thinking about football,” said Davis, who redshirted the 2010 season. “I wanted to make sure I was going to walk again.”
Davis has done more than that. After a successful surgery, the 6-foot, 247-pounder returned to the game he loved and in two years has turned into an All-Big 12 performer with sights set on making it to the NFL.
“Coming back, I haven’t felt any pain since,” Davis said. “My back just gets tired. I do treatments and stuff to stay flexible so I don’t get tight.”
Watching Davis battle through the injury inspired the 6-3, 245-pound Williams to live his life for the moment because, after all, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
“When he recovered, I was so proud of him, the way he worked and rehabbed,” Williams said. “He never gave up because he loved the game. He could barely stand up and walk and he fought through it and came back better and stronger.
“Like he tells me, you never know when you’re last shot could be. I believe in that and know I have to go hard every play. Knowing he went through something like that, he kept going and going. You can’t take nothing for granted.”
Williams has played like a man motivated for greatness, earning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year this season by the league coaches after 36 tackles — 13.5 for loss — to go with 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
And together, the two have wreaked havoc on the rest of the Big 12. The duo, known by their teammates as the “Georgia muscle” or the “Smash brothers,” helped the Wildcats to an improved defense in 2012. K-State ranked third in the Big 12 in total defense and second against the run, while collecting a league-best 31 sacks this season.
“I know I’ve never coached better,” K-State defensive ends coach Joe Bob Clements said of his two defensive ends.
Part of that growth on the field could be a result of the grown Williams has made off the field as a leader.
“Meshak, sometimes before games he’ll get up in front of the team,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said earlier this season. “It started just before the West Virginia game — Meshak just started saying what was on his mind. Everybody took it to heart because when you hear from guys you don’t typically hear from, like Meshak, everybody notices that.”
It wasn’t easy for Williams to step out of his comfort zone and into the spotlight with his teammates. He’d always preferred to let his play on the field do his talking.
“I wasn’t really sure about myself,” he said. “It was a big stretch for me because I’ve never been the guy to give speeches like that. But I realized I had to come out of my shell eventually and be that leader my team needed sometimes.”