MIT Wisconsin Whitewater Basketball

Wisconsin-Whitewater's Chris Davis shoots against MIT during an NCAA Division III semifinal college basketball game, Friday, March 16, 2012, in Salem, Va. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Sam Dean)

Sam Dean

Having made the most of a second chance in basketball, Chris Davis is out to prove that he can resurrect his football career, too.

After leading the UW-Whitewater men's basketball team to the NCAA Division III title in March, the All-American forward joined the Warhawks' three-time defending national champion football team in the spring and is participating in offseason conditioning.

Davis hasn't played football for six years — he earned first-team All-Big Eight Conference honors at Madison East as a senior in 2006 — but UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold expects him to contribute at tight end this fall and Davis has already sparked interest among some NFL agents.

"I'm going to be out there to prove myself," Davis said earlier this month when he received the Sportsman of the Year honor at the Madison Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

"A lot of people might think I'm just trying to chase another ring. No. I love football just like I love playing basketball. … I'm out there to actually play and try to do as much as I can."

The 6-foot-6 Davis completed his basketball eligibility this spring, and was named national player of the year by two organizations after leading the Warhawks to their first national title since coach Pat Miller's senior season in 1989.

"He gave me a second chance, so I had to repay him somehow," Davis said.

Davis briefly dropped out of high school during his sophomore year and eventually became a teenage father before returning to East.

Since he wanted to stay close to his son, Davis decided to attend Madison Area Technical College to play basketball but was kicked off the team his sophomore year after getting into a fight with a teammate.

Davis acknowledges he didn't make things easy on himself, but said it put a chip on his shoulder to work harder.

"It gave me motivation to want to strive for better, and want to get better at everything I do," he said.

With two years of schooling remaining to complete his degree, Davis knew he needed another challenge.

"Instead of sitting around and doing nothing, I wanted to play football," said Davis, who according to Division III rules has two semesters of eligibility remaining for sports other than basketball.

Leipold said he first heard about Davis wanting to try out for the team from Miller and was immediately excited. After seeing Davis participate in spring practices, one trait stood out.

"His hands are outstanding," Leipold said. "I was thoroughly impressed with his hands and his ability to pull things in. That's natural for him."

As a senior at East, Davis accounted for 558 yards and nine touchdowns on 41 receptions while breaking the school's reception and touchdown records.

"He was catching footballs right and left and he was very gifted, very talented and a very coachable young man," said Dennis Hill, who was Davis' coach at East.

What's not natural to Davis is blocking. He's cast as a tight end after playing only wide receiver for the Purgolders and the Madison Mustangs men's amateur team.

"It changes the whole thing — it's like being a lineman out there," Davis said. "I'm not worried about catching the ball. I've just got to learn how to block first."

The Warhawks graduated Jason Ford, their top receiving tight end from last season, and will look to replace his 29 receptions for 257 yards. Leipold didn't want to speculate too much on Davis' potential, but said he fully expects Davis to be a contributor.

Aside from Davis' clear physical tools, Miller said his best asset is one he saw every night on the basketball court.

"He is by far the most unselfish great player we've ever had."

With that in mind, Miller added it's hard not to be compelled by what Davis can bring to the football field, especially after former college basketball players such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have had such success at the NFL level.

"I've already gotten calls from agents on the football side who are intrigued with him because he just has a talent set that they don't see a lot of," Miller said. "Without having played a down, he already has the attention of people who are very interested to see how he progresses."

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