KD Davis thought long and hard about whether he wanted to return to North Texas for a fifth season over the summer.
The former Ennis standout played four years with the Mean Green and had a couple of intriguing options after testing the waters in the transfer portal. He visited Ole Miss and Texas A&M but was drawn back to UNT by the chance to cement his legacy and chase one mark in particular — the program’s record for career tackles.
Davis still has a chance to complete the chase that has turned out differently than he expected heading into the Mean Green’s regular season finale on Saturday against Rice.
Davis took aim at the record of 386 tackles set by program legend Byron Gross that had been listed in the record book for years. That figure was adjusted midway through the season when school officials realized it had been wrong all along.
It turned out, Gross finished with 418 tackles from 1987-90, leaving Davis some work to do. He’s sitting at 394 heading into the weekend. UNT (6-5, 5-2 Conference USA) has two more games to play and could have three, if it clinches a berth in the C-USA title game this weekend, a goal it can reach by beating the Owls.
UNT is already bowl eligible with six wins and headed to a postseason game no matter what happens in its game against Rice (5-6, 3-4).
“I was kind of hurt about it at first because it was a goal and one of the reasons I came back,” Davis said. “I’m up for the challenge and am willing to do whatever it takes to get it, but my main focus right now is winning.”
UNT coach Seth Littrell and Davis’ teammates say that approach is what has made him a special player for the Mean Green over the years. He’s a team captain and one of UNT’s emotional leaders in addition to being one of the best players in program history.
Davis was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection as a sophomore in 2019 and a junior in 2020. He led UNT in tackles for a third straight season last year when he finished with 121.
He’s racked up 105 tackles so far year, a total that leads C-USA and ranks in the top 25 nationally.
“KD means a lot to this program just with all the things he’s done on the field,” Littrell said. “What people don’t see are the things he does off the field, the leader he is in the locker room, his energy every single day on the practice field, the way he works and the example he sets.”
Those traits were the reason Littrell and the rest of UNT’s players held their breath when Davis entered the transfer portal.
“It’s been awesome to play with KD,” fellow linebacker Kevin Wood said. “He took me under his wing when I got here and is one of my best friends. To see him get so close to the record that he deserves because he’s worked so hard is cool.”
Davis started his fifth year at UNT with 289 tackles. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would surpass Gross’ record.
The UNT Hall of Famer has held the mark for years and long suspected that the total in the UNT record book was wrong.
“I noticed it during the Hall of Fame ceremony when I was inducted in 2004,” Gross said. “I don’t know if I said anything about it. I figured they would get it fixed one day. It came up again when they named the All-Century Team [in 2013]. I figured I had more than 400 tackles.”
UNT officials checked through their records this year. Gross was right. His total was adjusted to 418 in October.
Gross, who was a four-time All-Southland Conference selection from 1987-90 and a Division I-AA All-American in 1990, has been pulling for Davis to run down his revised total ever since.
“I’m absolutely pulling for KD,” Gross said. “That’s what records are there for, to be broken. He will go down in history was one of the best to ever play for UNT.”
Gross isn’t the only one who will be rooting for Davis. His teammates are also aware of how close he is to the mark.
“He’ll make it,” safety Quinn Whitlock said. “KD is fire on the field. We haven’t talked about it, but we’ve heard people talk about it. We’re all rooting for him.”
Davis will have a much better chance of coming up with 25 tackles he needs to pass Gross if he can help the Mean Green knock off Rice, ensuring UNT of an additional game.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, Davis will look back on his time at UNT with pride. He’s had a hard time coming to grips with Saturday’s game being his last at Apogee.
“I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished,” Davis said. “Everything I’ve done and put into this program is something I’m proud of. Even when I got a little iffy about it, I stayed committed.”
The connection Davis has with his coaches and teammates is a big reason for that commitment. He could have done what several top players at the Group of Five level did when they received an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic and moved on to a higher profile program.
It was certainly something he considered.
“I know I made the right decision,” Davis said. “I knew what I had here with the coaches and players. There are a lot of guys who look up to me. I’m big on relationships and family. I’m not the type of person to leave anyone behind or move on from what I started. I had to come back and finish.”
Davis’ tackle figures are important to him because they are part of his legacy, but what is more important to him are the memories he’s made along the way.
“I will remember going out to Apogee, making plays, going to practice and workouts with [strength and conditioning coach Zack] Womack and being in a big brotherhood,” Davis said. “I’ll also remember being a leader and doing everything I can to make the team closer.”
The friendships he made in his time at UNT is what Gross cherishes most. He met his wife at UNT and comes back to tailgate on homecoming.
Gross works in insurance in San Antonio and was at UNT’s game against UTSA earlier this year. He’ll be back at the Alamodome to cheer on the Mean Green if they earn the right to face the Roadrunners again in the C-USA championship game. UTSA has already clinched a spot.
“I would love to meet KD,” Gross said. “It’s all a fraternity, everyone who played linebacker and on defense at North Texas. We want the best for each other in football and life.”
That bond is the reason Gross will be pulling for Davis to eclipse his record over the next few weeks. The mark has been adjusted. Now it’s up to Davis to run it down and reach the milestone that helped lure him back to UNT for one more season.