Sharon Davis thought, and deep down she hoped, that the St. Charles Police Department had the wrong number.
On an icy February 2011 night in the Chicago suburbs, Sharon picked up the phone and heard an officer tell her that her 16-year-old son, Tyler, was in a car accident.
“The only thing they would tell me on the phone,” Sharon said before a brief pause, “was that he was still ‘with us.’ ”
She turned to her husband, Tim, totally stunned, and the two, along with their younger son Joseph, rushed to Delnor Community Hospital.
The ride wasn’t a long one, but it felt like a lifetime.
The Davises were in the dark the whole drive. The police were vague about what happened to Tyler.
“It was extremely emotional and very scary,” Sharon said. “We didn’t know what kind of shape he was in.”
They didn’t know that on his way home from meeting friends at a local Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Tyler’s 2001 Honda Civic slid on ice, flipped and crashed into a tree. The tree, uprooted from the ground, shattered through the windshield as branches and glass pierced his face.
They didn’t know that Tyler sustained major head trauma, a broken jaw, and would need 50 stitches on the left side of his face.
When Sharon, Tim and Joseph arrived at the hospital, they needed answers; the doctor allowed one person to come back and see Tyler.
Mom followed the doctor to Tyler’s room.
When Sharon entered, she saw her son like she had never seen him before. Tyler was on a stretcher, face bloody with his head and rest of body taped to a board for stability.
As they wheeled him back for an MRI, he was in a state of shock. So, too, were his parents and brother.
“I’m sure I really didn’t really see the worst of my family because I don’t remember anything until the next day,” Tyler said. “I think it was pretty bad for them. I feel terrible that happened to them.”
Tyler not only has zero recollection of being in the hospital that evening, but he also lost any memory of the accident. He doesn’t remember getting in his car, losing control of the vehicle, flipping into a tree, or having the windshield blown to smithereens.
“I’ve seen the car, and I’ve seen the tree I uprooted,” Tyler said. “It wasn’t that big, but big enough to mess me up.”
The MRI, CT scan and X-rays determined Tyler’s broken jaw and concussion — and it also discovered more glass underneath his skin. The doctors had to remove his stitches, scoop out the rest of the glass from his face, and patch it back up.
Once all that was completed, Tyler lay in his hospital bed still in a state of disarray. Sharon remembers her son repeating three questions.
What time is it?
Will I play soccer again?
Is this really happening, Mom?
“He was saying the same three things for hours,” Sharon recalled. “It took him a while to come out of it.”
When he ultimately did, Tyler found himself asking his mom one of those questions.
Will I play soccer again?
Sharon didn’t respond.
“I’m like, ‘Mom, can you answer me?’ ” he said. “She’s like, ‘Tyler you’ve asked me that a hundred times already.’ I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’m probably so annoying.’ ”
The answer to his question was yes — Tyler did play soccer again, and he ultimately moved on from the sport to Penn State, where he’s now the starting field goal kicker.
But him returning to sports was considered improbable at the time. All Tyler’s family was worried about was getting his brain back to normal.
After spending a few days in the hospital, Tyler returned to school for a bit before seeing a concussion specialist.
“As soon as he saw Tyler within two minutes, he was very upset that any doctor would let him go back to school,” Sharon said. “They said to keep him in a dark room. No TV, and no phone, just let his brain rest.”
And for a while, that’s what he did. Eventually, he worked his way back into going to school for an hour or two, and coming home to meet with a tutor. His friends and family would visit frequently, trying to keep Tyler sane during such a frustrating time.
One of his best friends, Quint Barr, hung out at Tyler’s house often. Quint, a junior at St. Charles North High School at the time while Tyler was a sophomore, was Tyler’s ride to school each morning before the accident.
The morning after Tyler’s crash, like normal, Quint drove up to his buddy’s house. He said Tyler typically took five or 10 minutes to come out to the car, but after not responding to any calls or texts, he left for school.
Tyler couldn’t use his phone in the hospital. Quint and his friends had no idea what happened.
“I realized I was going to be late for school, and I needed to pick up another buddy, too,” Quint said, “so I went to school and texted him, ‘Sorry dude had to go.’ ”
It wasn’t until 11 a.m. that day that his friend approached him after class and told him about Tyler’s accident.
“My heart sunk,” Quint said.
These days, Quint and his friends joke with Tyler regularly about the crash. Quint said it took about a year until it became funny.
At the time, they were unsure of what the future held.
“Is he going to come back from this?” Quint remembered thinking.
Mentally, Sharon said it took months for him to fully recover. She could see him slowly progress; whether it was a good day or a bad day with the tutor, he gradually started to grasp the material.
But she knew no matter how much progress he made with the tutor and how many times his friends and family visited him, the situation bothered her son.
A budding soccer star for both his high school and club team, Tyler was itching to get back on the pitch — if he could.
“It was killing him,” Sharon said. “It was terrible. That was his love.”
For a while, he really had no idea if he’d ever play again. Tyler said his balance was bad after the accident; he couldn’t balance on one leg for more than two seconds.
But bit by bit, he got back into soccer shape. After going to school full-time, he was practicing with his club team, Sockers FC, and months after his accident, Tyler made a return to soccer. He entered as a substitute with 15 minutes to go against rival Chicago Fire Academy.
“I was so fired up to play,” Tyler said.
He made an impact right away, recording an assist on the game-tying goal as the clock waned. But it’s not the assist that Sharon remembers most fondly that day. It was the moment he entered the game.
“Everyone in the crowd gave him a standing ovation,” Sharon said, as her voice quivered.
She was nervous every time he went for a header, worrying that there would be a collision. But Tyler attacked the ball like he always had.
He was fearless in his approach, something that stuck with him throughout his recovery.
“I don’t think I had too much of a problem at all,” Tyler said about his rebound.
Oddly enough, four years after making his return to the Chicago soccer circuit, he found himself on a football field in Pennsylvania.
Tyler continued to succeed for his high school and his club team, setting a St. Charles North High School record for goals in a season (25) as a junior and impressing college scouts along the way. He received several Division I offers, including some from Big Ten schools.
However, Tyler admitted that he was immature in his recruiting process, and after a quick visit to Bradley University, he decided to play soccer in-state.
The forward impressed his freshman season, but not liking the small-college feel of Bradley, he asked for his release from the program so he could transfer to a bigger school.
His coach denied his request.
“I was also playing really well in the spring,” Tyler said with a smile. “That probably wasn’t the best thing to get my release.”
So it was either stay at Bradley and play soccer, or go to another school and leave soccer behind.
Thankfully for Tyler, he had a backup plan.
Despite never playing football in his life, he attended a kicking camp with his friend — just for fun — three weeks before asking Bradley for his release. In his first real attempt kicking footballs, he won the camp’s kickoff and field goal competitions.
Shortly thereafter, Tyler sent home videos to Big Ten and ACC football programs — no offensive line in front of him or a teammate holding — just him kicking the ball off a field goal stick .
With the help of his kicking coach, Penn State responded with an offer to become a preferred walk-on. Tyler gladly accepted.
Today, six years removed from an accident that threatened his livelihood, Tyler is a prized placekicker for the No. 24 Nittany Lions.
Prior to having a kick blocked against Ohio State, Davis was perfect in his career. He enters this weekend’s game at Purdue with a 19 for 20 career field goal mark, and he’ll look to improve that tally in front of some familiar faces.
His buddy Quint, who went to Indiana and now works in Chicago, will be in West Lafayette on Saturday afternoon. Sharon and Tim travel to most home and away games, and his brother Joseph, now a freshman at Iowa, chooses to watch Penn State games in his dorm instead of going to check out the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.
Tyler has come a long way; in 2011, he was asking his mom if he’d ever play soccer again. Now, Penn State head coach James Franklin doesn’t even need to ask Tyler if he can convert a deep field goal.
Tyler has earned Franklin’s unwavering trust because of how he handles pressure situations. And to Tyler, any situation on the football pales in comparison to his arduous journey.
“It’s a great story, isn’t it?” Sharon said with an exhale. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Penn State vs. Purdue Game Day Breakdown
Who: Penn State (5-2, 3-1) vs. Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium
Series: Penn State leads 13-3-1
KEYS TO WIN
For Penn State: Let Barkley cook. Purdue allows 249 rushing yards per game, 121st in the country. Saturday could be another showcase performance for star running back Saquon Barkley.
For Purdue: Protect the ball. Boilermakers quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing yards but has also thrown 11 interceptions. The sophomore needs a clean performance if Purdue wants to shock the Nittany Lions.
Nittany Lion to watch: Saeed Blacknall. After missing several games due to injury, Blacknall re-emerged with a 35-yard reception against Ohio State. He could get involved yet again in the downfield passing game.
Boilermaker to watch: Brycen Hopkins. The 6-foot-5 freshman tight end has only seven catches all year, but three of them are touchdowns. Hopkins (23.6 yards per catch) is a big play waiting to happen.