COVINGTON, Ga. — At one point Toby Davis cracked a bit of a smile while watching some of his Liberty Middle School football players work a routine drill during a recent summer practice.
If you watched him, you’d see that the smile started small — almost wry — but then gradually grew, seemingly encompassing his entire face. Then, if you looked at the routine drill he was watching and you saw that nothing spectacular happened — no slobber-knocking hits. No jaw-dropping runs — you might be tempted to ask what the big smile was for.
If you asked, Davis would have no problem telling you.
“I’m just so happy to be back on this soil,” Davis said. “This Liberty Middle School soil. I’m so excited to be able to put in the hours to see this program grow.”
Davis picked a good time to arrive. The Knights are coming off its first NewRock championship since winning back-to-back crowns in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. But that’s another reason why he’s pumped to be there.
For Davis, coming to Liberty is coming back home.
I started out at Liberty back in 2014 when we weren’t undefeated two years in a row,” he said. “We won two championships and then I got a promotion to go be the offensive coordinator at Alcovy.”
Davis was part of those championship Liberty squads that were considered legendary by some in local circles. And when he got to Alcovy, he felt like he was tracking along pretty well until the injury bug showed up.
“We were 4-1 there, and went into region play with players banged up and nicked up and out for the season,” he said. “So it took a bit of a turn for the worse.”
Alcovy football hasn’t had much success since, as it finds itself in the midst of a going-on-four-year region drought. And save Liberty’s return to championship status, the Knights had been down a bit as well.
Excuse Davis if he feels a little deja vu sensation coming over him, though, as he finds himself pretty much in the same place he was in five years ago. Not only is he the Knights’ head football coach, but he’s also assistant athletic director at Alcovy and serves on offensive coordinator Cory Quinn’s play calling staff.
All this is considered a special treat for the coach, given that he decided to stay out of coaching for a while once things went south at Alcovy several years ago. But Davis said the time away was good, and it’s energized him for what he hopes will be more feelings of deja vu — of the championship variety.
“I had to rejuvenate, get that energy back and come back and coach the game I love coaching,” he said. “I love coaching. I played in college (at Morris Brown) and this game has gotten me to where I am. And coming back to coach here, I want to use this game to give back to these young men and show them how football can open up more doors. I want to teach them the game instead of just coaching it. I want to teach them nature of the game and how they’re supposed to play the game that they love.”
He’ll definitely be taking on more of a tutoring role as many of the key players from last year’s championship squad have moved on to the high school ranks. That doesn’t bother Davis, though, as he sees ample potential in guys like quarterback Taj Avery and a pair of high-school-looking offensive linemen in Bruce Jones and Atavious Burton.
“Bruce is about 6-foot-1 and 330 pounds,” he said. “Atavious is 6-foot-1, 350 pounds. They’re two big lineman who should help us develop a power running game. I want to teach them how to use their bodies and learn the system.”
Part of that learning curve involves getting the Liberty program fitted with becoming a feeder to Alcovy — something his dual ties with the school should help with.
“I already have some of my players already talking about the new Alcovy coaching staff and that they see what’s brewing over there,” he said. “And I want these guys to know that, hey, Alcovy isn’t a program on the bottom. It’s a 6A program, and if you want to play ball, just be committed, go to Alcovy and help the program change its ways.”
That’s something Davis said he wants to do at Liberty too. He said he’s anxious to continue the rebuild of this once proud program to prove that last year’s championship run wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“When I was presented with the opportunity to come back to both places, I couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “I left as a champion and want to come back as a champion. What better place to get back into coaching than to come back home?”