The power to cope: Palisade’s Davis uses athletics to stay focused, free his mind

Football players are taught about toughness, perseverance and courage.

Kelly Davis, a 17-year-old Palisade High School football player, is a living example of a tough, courageous athlete who has persevered through the worst of circumstances.

Davis’ parents, Dean and Shelly Davis, and an uncle, Kelly Herland, were killed in July in a tragic car accident in Lusk, Wyo. The three were traveling to Shelly Davis’ high school reunion in Williston, N.D., when they were hit head-on.

“They were great parents, they wanted great things for me, and wouldn’t let me not be successful,” Davis said. “We were a normal family who played a lot of sports.”

Sports, specifically football, have helped Davis cope with losing his parents. Davis, who is living with an uncle, hasn’t missed a day of football practice and has maintained his grades in the classroom.

“Football is a great release for him because it’s a sense of community and family and a way to take his mind off of things that are tough,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “It’s a place where it’s stable. He knows what is going to happen every day, he knows what we are doing and what’s expected of him.”

After the loss of his parents, Davis’ dedication to football did not waver. There’s been the obvious pain of not being able to see them after games, but Davis said he knows playing is what his parents would have wanted.

“I was always going to play, one, because I love the game, and because I know my parents would have never wanted me to quit,” Davis said. “It really helps me stay focused and not think about things. It keeps me in line.”

Davis’s attitude about athletics is one that was established by Dean and Shelly at a young age. Dean Davis graduated from Delta High School in 1976 and was a great athlete, running track, playing football, baseball, and wrestling.

Dean and Shelly started both Kelly and his older brother, Kyle, in sports at a young age.

“My dad was my coach when I was younger and as I got older he stepped back, but he was always there,” Kelly said. “My parents were at every sporting event me and my brother did.”

Arledge said Dean and Shelly were the type of people who were positive influences on their son’s athletic career.

“They really did want their kid to have a great experience in football and wrestling,” Arledge said. “They loved to watch him play, watching him score that (81-yard) touchdown last week (against Montezuma-Cortez), they would have loved that.”

Although Davis is still making plays on the field this season, he’s forced to live with a tragedy most people his age can’t even imagine.

Zaid Bradfield, a tackle for the Bulldogs, is one of Davis’ best friends. Bradfield said he was shocked when he heard the news.

“I just couldn’t believe it at first,” Bradfield said. “But he’s handled it about as well as he could. I think football’s helped because he’s around his friends and doesn’t have a lot of time to think about it.”

Palisade has had its difficulties on the football field this season, with a 5-4 record. Despite the uncharacteristic struggles on the field, Arledge said he’s been impressed with how his team has rallied around Davis.

“When I think about our record and how we’ve had our ups and downs this year, I’m probably most proud of how they act around (Kelly) and how they support him as a human being,” Arledge said.

“I can’t say enough about how he’s handled it. He’s handled it with great dignity, and it’s a tough one. I lost my mom when I was in high school, and sports are the greatest therapy.”

Davis’ play hasn’t dropped off.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior is a captain and one of the Bulldogs’ best players on both sides of the ball, with 12 catches and three touchdowns this season.

“He’s a big part of what we do, not just what he does on the field, but he’s a leader,” Palisade quarterback Jordan Salazar said. “He contributes big on offense and defense.”

As would be expected, Davis has struggled with his emotions over losing his parents. But in his work ethic, character and toughness, he has shown what type of parents Dean and Shelly were.

“There will be times he will break down and I know he has, but he’s done a great job. He’s done a better job than 99 percent of the public could ever do,” Arledge said.

“But it goes back to how they instilled a character, a work ethic, a humility and integrity, where most people don’t get that. I know he doesn’t have his parents now, but they are still living through him.”

Davis said he will wrestle this winter, and after high school, he plans to attend Mesa State and pursue a teaching degree.

“I was thinking about becoming a teacher and giving back,” Davis said. “I also want to coach. My dad wanted me to do that. My mom, too.”


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