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Antwan Davis goes from bouncing from home to home to helping Ball State win the MAC
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Antwan Davis goes from bouncing from home to home to helping Ball State win the MAC

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The path Antwan Davis traveled was far from straight. You could say there were bumps and road blocks along the way, but the Ball State wide receiver never let go of the steering wheel.

He kept his focus on the road ahead.

“I guess you could say I was homeless — I was just bouncing around,” said Davis, a former Lake Central standout and member of Ball State’s Mid-American Conference Championship football squad.

“My sophomore year (at LC) my grandma passed away and she was a rock for me. My mom struggled and my dad wasn’t in the picture. I knew my mom had to take care of my little brother, so I started off on my own. I started staying at different friends’ houses.”

That included crashing at both the Atkins’ family home and the Rolls’ family home in the Tri-Town area. Davis doesn’t hesitate to credit those families for keeping him afloat.

The Atkins family in St. John was the lifeline Davis needed and are still close to his heart today. He became friends with fellow receiver Austin Atkins, then a teammate at LC, and they got close running “route trees” at school. Davis, a senior at the time, said Atkins, a sophomore, explained his situation to his parents, Hunter and Tiffany, and he ended up moving in — just like he was one of their own.

“My last year at LC they took me in,” Davis said. “It was the best environment for me. They provided so much love and parental guidance.”

Hunter Atkins said it was a “no-brainer” because Davis was such a great kid. The family never hesitated on the decision. No weird talks or rules to go over; the invitation didn’t come with an RSVP, either.

“We decided on a Saturday night and on Sunday he moved in,” Hunter Atkins said. “He’s part of the family. He attends all the holidays; the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins love him and watch all his games. He’s really taken our entire family by storm.”

Atkins said a rewarding part of the process was getting to watch Davis on TV in the MAC Championship on Dec. 18. At the Atkins’ St. John residence was Hunter, his dad, and Austin, all watching the game together.

“Pretty cool having three generations watching him and showing our support,” Hunter Atkins said. “That’s a moment we’ll always cherish.”

Hunter Atkins is no stranger to athletic success, either, as the 1988 Highland grad was a star on the basketball court. He went on to play at Ole Miss and Loyola, and once scored 50 points in a high school game in 1987 against, ironically, Lake Central.

“Both the grandmothers are battling cancer and Antwan has been such a huge supporter for them,” said Atkins, a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Silver Anniversary team. “He’s reached out with spiritual and upbeat messages to both of them.

“It’s really been a blessing for us as well, having him in our lives. He’s so special and such an inspiration to us. My kids got to see just how a person can persevere and how resilient he was.”

Davis caught five passes for 69 yards in Ball State’s 38-28 victory over Buffalo in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 18 at Ford Field in Detroit. It was the Cardinals’ first conference championship since 1996.

Davis has come so far in such a short time. He said he had no scholarship offers out of high school and ended up asking former LC teammate K.J. Singleton, who was going to Lincoln University, a Division II school in Jefferson City, Missouri, to give the coaching staff some of his film.

“I sold myself with film, took a visit (with Hunter), they offered and I took it,” Davis said. “I had nothing else to fall back on.”

The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Davis had 215 yards receiving and two TDs in a game against William Jewell as a freshman in 2015. He led Lincoln in receiving yards for the season, but wanted bigger and better things.

“My dream was to play Division I (football),” Davis said. “That year I went out and proved it.”

Davis wanted to be closer to home and came in as a walk-on during current Ball State coach Mike Neu’s first recruiting class in 2017. He played in the season opener against Central Connecticut State — making one catch — but suffered a broken foot and missed the rest of the season.

He kept his chin up.

Davis spent the offseason working his tail off and earned a scholarship. He’s been a starter for three straight seasons.

“I kept a chip on my shoulder and kept working,” Davis said. “I had no offers, I heard I was too small, I didn’t have a great 40 (yard-dash) time.

“You name it, I heard it all.”

Ball State (6-1) is headed to the Arizona Bowl and will face Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State on New Year’s Eve. The game will be televised on CBS at 1 p.m. Davis, who wears No. 1, is third on the team in receiving with 36 catches for 413 yards.

The Cardinals won six straight games to get to the MAC Championship in Detroit.

“We stuck to the process,” Davis said. “Our motto was DOB (Detroit or bust) all season long.”

Davis, who actually has another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, has a dream of playing in the NFL. After all he’s overcome, nobody should doubt him.

“All he does is eat, drink and sleep football,” Atkins said. “His focus from Day 1 was to play in the NFL.”

Davis is happy that everything has turned out well. He already earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and is currently working on his master’s in athletic coaching education. His mother is back on her feet, and his younger brother, George Winfield, has turned into a high school football star just like his older brother. Winfield is a 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior offensive lineman at Calumet and was recently named first team All-Greater South Shore Athletic Conference.

“Faith carried me,” Davis said. “I trusted in God and I trusted the process. I used to get upset, but I realized sometimes those are the cards you are dealt with in life.

“I just stuck to the plan and never gave up.”

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