Keith Davis is a long way from his football home. Having grown up in Texas, played his high school and college ball in the state, and been signed to his first pro contract by the Dallas Cowboys, the safety now finds himself five thousand miles from the lone-star state in Berlin, playing for NFL Europe's Thunder.
One thing that Davis has carried from Texas to Germany is his love of football, and the enthusiasm that he has for the game has brought him here, and will doubtless take him much further.
That passion for the sport is natural, because football in Texas is more than just a game, it is a way of life, as Davis explains:
"Where I played football in high school in a small town, the whole town just shut down on a Friday night. Everybody would go out and watch the game, little kids, old people, everybody would be there watching the game."
Davis went on from Italy High School to continue his career at Sam Houston State, where he earned All-American honors in his senior season and ended up fourth on the school's career tackles list. For any young football player growing up in the state, the natural ambition after a successful college football career would be to go on and play for the Dallas Cowboys, not just the top team in Texas, but the self-styled 'America's Team'. That aspiration turned to reality for Davis when he inked a free agent contract with the Cowboys in April 2002.
"It was a dream come true to sign for the Cowboys," Davis said. "I always wanted to play in the NFL for any team, but to play for the Cowboys - well that was something that I had waited for my whole life to hear. Growing up in Texas, and playing football at high school and college there, the Cowboys were the team that I grew up watching.
"One of the guys that I looked up to through my football career coming up was Darren Woodson, and then suddenly I am on the same team as him. Well, let me tell you, that's a thrill in itself."
Davis found himself on the field with Woodson, as well as joining the Cowboys at the same time as another safety who will go down as one of the all-time greats at the position - Roy Williams. For a young man who has played at a small college, the chance to study the play of two such distinguished players was not an opportunity to waste. Fortunately for Davis he was not about to let that chance slip away, and Woodson's pointers soon helped him on his way.
"Watching him on the field, watching how he prepares and watches film and studies before a game, and his professionalism - that's something that you can't get anywhere else, you just can't put a price on that," Davis admits.
"He would always give me advice and tell me what to look for. Learning from Darren has given me a great joy and it is something that I really appreciated having the chance to do."
Hhis own hard work and Woodson's advice helped to groom Davis quicker than many people had expected, and after spending the first weeks of the season on the Cowboys practice squad, he was added to the active roster to add depth to the Dallas secondary.
"I was activated in week eight, and played some special teams and in the nickel and dime package, and I did pretty well. I played in eight games and everything was going fine for me," Davis said.
However, the promising start to Davis' career was curtailed in June 2003 when he was unwittingly involved in a shooting outside a Dallas nightspot. Davis was shot three times, in the hand and hip, after he stopped somebody trying to rob his fiancÚ.
"Like I said, everything was going well, but then I just found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wasn't doing anything wrong, but I got shot three times," said Davis. "By the grace of God I am still here, and I have suffered no ill-effects. It was a really bad experience, but you live and you learn - and I think that I have learnt from that experience. I have dealt with it and I am just looking forward to playing football and putting that all behind me."
With a short time until he was expected to join the Cowboys for the opening of training camp, Davis was determined to rehabilitate the injuries suffered in the shooting and get back on the field.
"I picked myself up, was glad just still to be here, and then told myself that I had to move on and put this in my past. I busted my tail trying to get ready for training camp for the Cowboys, and three weeks after I got shot I passed the conditioning test that I needed to so that I could rejoin the team," he said.
"That meant a lot to me, I was back in football shape in time and I think that showed people something. After that happened to me I feel that I can overcome just about anything. I am just thankful that I have my arms working, my hand working, and the use of my legs."
Despite making such a miraculous recovery, Davis still had one obstacle to overcome. Noted disciplinarian head coach Bill Parcells joined the Cowboys in early 2003, and seeking to give a clear and distinct message to Cowboys players about what was expected of them, he cut Davis.
"I knew then that I wasn't released by Dallas for not being able to play or not being in condition to play - there was a new coach - coach Parcells, and he came in and he wanted to make his mark on the team and put his foot down," Davis said.
However, just as Davis managed to look forward and put the incident behind him, so did the Cowboys organization, and he was resigned early this year to be allocated to play in Europe. Davis has made a big impression in the first six weeks of the NFL Europe season. One of the leaders on a team that has a 5-1 record, Davis' three interception rank top in the league, and his 40 tackles show that he has been making plays all over the field for Berlin.
"I spoke to coach before I came out here, and I have spoken to the player personnel guys in Dallas since I have been here and they are all pleased with the progress that I have made," he says.
Having played in Dallas under two very different head coaches, Davis is adjusting to life in Berlin under Thunder rookie head coach Rick Lantz - a man with 40 years of college and professional coaching experience under his belt.
"Coach Lantz is like a mixture of Parcells and a bit of coach (Dave) Campo. Coach Campo was more laid back - he got his point across, but he was laid back in doing it. Coach Parcells is a rah-rah type of guy, he gets in your face, lets you know if you are doing something wrong," Davis notes.
"Coach Lantz can be the same type of guy as Parcells, he can be a tough guy and at times he gets a little stirred up. We have a great coaching staff here, and I am really enjoying playing for them."
Davis' personal objectives for the 2004 NFL Europe season were simple:
"I just wanted to do my best for the team and do the best that I can - and if you come with that attitude you have to win some games. Winning the World Bowl is the ultimate goal of being over here."
Judging from the team's 5-1 record, Davis and the Berlin players have managed to largely fulfill their aims in the first half of the season. The Thunder safety believes that the winning run has been as much to do with the relationships that have been built between the team off the field as their on-field performances.
"The chemistry on this team has been the biggest thing. Right off the bat in training camp in Tampa we all gelled together really quickly. It is like a college atmosphere over here - the hotel is like being in a dormitory, and we all go from room to room playing video games and hanging out, and everybody just seems to like each other," says Davis.
After five consecutive wins, Berlin finally tasted defeat in week six, losing 27-28 on the last play of the game to the Cologne Centurions. Davis is adamant that this is not an experience that he intends to repeat, and that the sensation has only galvanized him and his teammates into ensuring that it does not happen again this year.
"That's a nasty feeling. Every time we have thought about it this week we have just been asking each other how we lost to those guys. We are ready to get playing this week against Rhein and get a win to get that taste out of our mouths.
"It is frustrating to lose like that, but I think that it was good for us to realize that we are not as good as we thought that we were, and that we have work to do to make sure that we focus and just start to get back to taking things one play at a time and one game at a time."
Despite the loss, Davis was selected as NFL Europe's Player of the Week for his two fourth quarter interceptions against the Centurions that should have put the team in a position to win the game. Davis points to this honor as recognition of the improvement that has come in his play as the season has progressed. After being out of football for a year it was only natural that it would take time to readjust to the speed of being on the field in game situations, but he never felt any less sure of his ability.
"I knew that if I did my best I would be in a position to make plays. I just do what I am coached to do - sometimes when you try to do too much you end up messing up, and that was happening a bit at the beginning of the season.
"Because I didn't get to play last year I was trying too hard, I was so glad to be back on the field that I was just going when I got out there. Now that I am letting the game come to me more, I believe that I have played a lot better these past couple of games."
If Davis continues to make plays, help his team to win, and earn the respect of his teammates, then he hopes that he will be able to return to Texas to continue with the next chapter of his career - and perhaps be the man to replace Darren Woodson when the 13-year veteran player's NFL career is over.
"I know when I get back to Dallas and play the way that I am capable of, then things will work themselves out," Davis says.
For now, however, there is only one thing on his mind - World Bowl. Texas can wait a while longer.