This year, Daily Bruin Sports is following four walk-ons throughout the year to track the unusual journeys of non-scholarship athletes. We'll keep tabs on Nick Kazemi of basketball, golfer Jacquie LeMarr, gymnast Ellette Craddock, and Roosevelt Davis of football. Check back every Wednesday to learn more about these athletes.
Roosevelt Davis was all set. He was going to Arizona State, and that was that.
But his dream school was UCLA.
He had not been accepted to UCLA, and though he was heavily recruited to play football at Division II and Division III schools, he was going to go to school and walk on to the football team in Tempe, Ariz.
All that was left was to make it official, and that’s exactly what Davis planned to do the next day.
Leaving his friend’s all-star basketball game, Davis was talking with his group of friends about their college plans. He was going to ASU, his friend was going to Central Michigan to play basketball and another friend was going to Boise State to play football.
Then, Davis received a phone call from his dad, Roosevelt Davis III, that left him speechless.
He had just gotten off the phone with UCLA. Davis IV was accepted into school in an admissions process that took into account both his grades and being able to walk on to the football team.
An emotional Davis IV struggled to come up with something to say other than, “Wow.”
While on family vacations, Davis III would take his son to local universities to tour campuses, even sit in on classes whenever possible. Though Davis IV visited schools like Harvard and Vanderbilt, one school in particular caught his eye.
“My decision, it was more like a blessing from God, like I never thought that I would be able to come to UCLA,” Davis IV said.
Davis IV enrolled at UCLA in 2011, walking on to the football team and redshirting his first year. The redshirt freshman receiver is now a starter on special teams for the Bruins.
Davis IV, who is listed at five feet six inches, does not possess the prototypical size commonly associated with the brutal sport.
“I go through adversity just about every day because of my size,” Davis IV said.
However, his heart has allowed him to make an impact where others were not able.
Despite redshirting as a freshman, he won the Charles Pike Memorial Award for Outstanding Scout Team Player on special teams last year.
This year, Davis IV is a special teams starter on kickoff coverage, a unit tasked with charging down field at incredible speed and colliding with other players as they try to take down the kick returner.
“The way he runs down on a kickoff, if that doesn’t inspire you ““ I tell these guys all the time, watch Roosevelt on this kickoff ““ then you don’t love football,” said special teams coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. “He puts it all out there and he’s one of those guys ““ he’s authentically doing it for his teammates.”
Although Davis IV was surprised to receive the award for his efforts last season, it came as little surprise to his teammates and Ulbrich, a former NFL linebacker who joined the coaching staff this year.
“He’s been like the heart and soul of that unit. He is extremely aggressive; he plays like he’s 6-4, 250 pounds. Secretly, I think he thinks that,” Ulbrich said.
“For me, he makes coaching fun. Guys like that, that overcome size, that overcome, he’s a walk-on, all those things, and for him to be as productive as he has been for us ““ that’s pretty cool.”
Davis IV’s approach to playing on the team was simple.
“I just knew that all year I just came out every day and was the same person, just worked hard and did what I had to do, and I just kept my mind to it,” he said. “I loved it, I love the game.”
During practice, Davis IV caught a short screen pass, taking it a few yards before he was tackled. As he came out after the play, a coach was giving him instruction. A few yards away from Davis IV and the coach stood another player in nearly the same position Davis IV was last year ““ his brother.
Ryan Davis is a walk-on who is redshirting his first year at UCLA. Ryan and Roosevelt played together at Paraclete High School in Lancaster where their dad served as an assistant coach.
“My greatest time was seeing Roosevelt and his brother Ryan in the backfield together and being able to coach them at the high school level, through high school and watch them achieve their dreams of going on to college. There’s nothing like it. It’s unbelievable,” Davis III said.
While both Roosevelt and Ryan consider their teammates their brothers as well, they admit there is something special about being together on the field.
“That year that I had by myself felt like I was singled away from him. Now, he’s back and it’s amazing because I’m on the football field and I come off the field and I look over and my brother’s right there,” Davis IV said.
“It’s a blessing because it’s really rare to see that.”
Davis IV begins to rattle off names: former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, UCLA coach Jim Mora, redshirt senior safety Andrew Abbott.
All were walk-ons at one point, and all were successful. Neuheisel was a walk-on quarterback at UCLA and ended up winning a Rose Bowl and being named MVP. Mora was a walk-on linebacker at the University of Washington. Abbott walked on at UCLA and has since earned a scholarship, and is now a starter on defense.
“If you have heart and you have the passion and the skill level then you can make yourself known,” Davis IV said.
“I honestly never really distinguish myself from scholarship and walk-on, I just distinguish myself as a UCLA football player. That’s what I think because I just went out and worked just like my brothers that were next to me every day.”
Although success on the field is one of the goals for Davis IV, it is neither his only one nor the most important.
In high school, he made the principal’s list all four years for academics in addition to participating in various national honor societies. Davis III recalls his son, Davis IV, getting wide-eyed as they toured through the various science buildings on campus.
His mother, Tamara Wilson, and father made Davis IV and his brother make one promise to them above all.
“Getting a degree there at UCLA is by far one of the best things that any young person can achieve that can take them as far as they want in life,” Davis III said.
“Yes, we like to see them playing sports and on the football field, (but) our first thing is get an education, get your degree, and that was the promise we had them make to us no matter what.”