By: Justin Felisko
September 09, 2016
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Cooper Davis placed his mouthpiece into his mouth and stared across the football field at Jasper High School and into the eyes of his overbearing opponent on Oct. 23, 2009.
The 15-year-old freshman was not staring down a 2,000-pound bull like he does every week in the PBR, though. Instead, Davis had Carthage High School standout linebacker and future Texas Longhorn Kendall Thompson on his radar.
Davis was a mere 5-foot-3 fullback, weighing in at barely 140 pounds, while Thompson towered over Davis with his 6-foot-3, 220-plus pound frame.
The assignment was simple. Well, it sounded simple at least.
Go take out Thompson and clear a path for his running back.
“It would probably be the equivalent to getting on Air Time for me,” Davis recalled with a laugh last week after becoming the No. 1 ranked bull rider in the world. “That guy was a man-child.”
So did the showdown against Thompson go any better than his matchup with Air Time this past summer?
“It was one of them deals where you better make a man of yourself or you are going to get shutdown,” Davis said. “He manhandled me a few times. There is no doubt about it. All I could do was take out his knees, and even those times it didn’t work out.”
Davis was a fullback and linebacker for the Jasper High School Bulldogs as a freshman and sophomore in 2009 and 2010 before leaving the team to focus on his bull riding career.
In just two quick years, Davis made a lasting impression on family friend and longtime Jasper assistant coach David Burt.
Burt, who is now the assistant principal and athletic director for Brookeland School District, coached a multitude of professional football players at Jasper High. He quickly realized there was something similar between Sean Weatherspoon of the Atlanta Falcons and Red Bryant, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, and Davis.
“It was the drive,” Burt said Thursday afternoon. “It is the drive to never accept where they are. To always be better. You can see the drive in Cooper’s eyes. Cooper is going to invest himself in anything he is going to do. You saw that even when he was a young man in high school.”
Burt actually graduated from Jasper High School with Cooper’s uncle and four years before Cooper’s mother, Kim.
On the football field, Davis was as tough as any NFL player Burt ever coached. In the classroom, Burt said Davis was a “Yes, sir/No, sir” student.
“Oh, he was a great kid,” Burt added. “Fearless, of course. He would go block whoever no matter how big they were, and he would go tackle anybody no matter how big either. Cooper had been riding bulls all his life so he was definitely not scared of anyone on the football field.”
Once Davis turned pro in 2012, Burt reached out to Davis’ grandmother, Donna McDonald, and asked if she could have her grandson autograph a dollar bill for him.
“I have several kids that I coached that are in the NFL, one is in the CFL, and one became a professional boxer,” Burt said. “I try to stay in touch with all of them. I have a little back porch area I hang out on, and I have them sign dollar bills. I staple them up on the back porch in the rafters.”
He recently joked with Donna that he is going to need a new dollar bill once Davis finishes the job and wins the 2016 World Championship.
“She laughed and said, ‘Absolutely,’” Burt said.
Davis heads into this weekend’s PFIWestern.com Invitational, presented by Bass Pro Shops, with a 19.67-point lead on Kaique Pacheco. Fans can watch Round 1 on Friday night exclusively on PBR LIVE beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
He also is slated to share the spotlight with the NFL this weekend when he competes during the 15/15 Bucking Battle on Saturday night. The 15/15 Bucking Battle will air on CBS national television Sunday at either 3 p.m. or 5 p.m. ET depending on the market.
Davis faces Cool Hand Luke (0-2, BFTS) in Round 1 and Hey Jack (4-0, BFTS) in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
The 22-year-old believes his two seasons with the Bulldogs taught him how to be a winner, even if the team struggled on the field.
“Any time you play any kind of sport it all kind of goes together,” he said. “You have to think of everything as, ‘How you can win.’ It helps you mentally. In football, it dang sure helps you physically. It teaches you how to win. I wasn’t the biggest guy by any means, but my dad (Chad) ate up the football thing. He always told me as long as you are meaner than the other guy you probably will win, so that is how I went at it. I think my coaches had a lot of respect for me because of that.”
Burt remembers talking to Davis’ grandmother last year when news broke that J.W. Hart and PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert talked with Davis about his weight.
Burt’s first reaction was that Davis would easily shed the weight and then some more for good measure.
He knew Davis would respect the legends’ advice and go prove himself. No challenge was ever too much for Davis.
“Every bull rider I have coached, they are unbelievably coachable,” Burt said. “They will do whatever you say for them to do without question or fault. You ask them to go run through a wall and they will go run through a wall and ask if they need to do it again. You don’t have to correct them more than once. If they make a mistake, they pay attention, especially Cooper.”
Davis still values one of the biggest lesson’s Burt taught him during his brief football career.
“If you can work hard – no matter what the odds were against you – you have a chance,” Davis said. “You have to go prove it.”
Davis certainly has a chance to win the 2016 World Championship, and he may just have $1 million in his pocket come the conclusion of the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals on Nov. 6.
If so, Burt will likely be hanging up a new dollar bill in his Jasper home.
“Oh, it would be awesome if he won,” Burt said. “He is the absolute best thing going for Jasper right now. I am blessed to have had him in class, coach him and say that I know him.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.