I had never been in the coaches’ offices before, never had a need to. I didn’t get into any fights, had no complaints. Well I did, but I kept them to myself. I just worked hard and did my job. But as I walked into their offices, on the back wall were two large chalk boards. On the top center of each one were the words OFFENSE, DEFENSE. Then across the entire chalk board from left to right was every position. Under each position were the names of all the different football players who were to be playing this year in those positions and what their status was: 1st string, 2nd string etc. and new players coming to play.
As I looked at the Offensive Board, I saw my position just under the Quarter Backs position, center of the board, Running Backs, with my name, Culley Davis, in the top position, 1st string. I was excited and proud to see my name there. I had worked five hard years to get to this point but this was all to change very soon. The head coach came out and, greeted me with a firm handshake and a warm smile and said, “What brings you here Culley? It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
I got right to the point. I was very nervous. My heart was pounding so loud it seemed like you could hear it beating 10 feet away and my emotions were near the surface. Now WAS NOT the time to be emotional, I was one who never cried. I needed and wanted to do this like a man, with strength and conviction. I said to the coaches, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this but I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the LDS or Mormon church.” One of the coaches said “Yes, I think this came up a couple of times when some of the players mentioned that you never drank or partied with the guys on the team when invited and the reason was given, ‘he’s religious, a Mormon’”. I smiled and gave a chuckle and said, “Yes, that would be me sir.” I continued, “In my church we are encouraged to serve two years as a missionary for our church. It is not mandatory. As a matter of fact, we even have to pay our own way if we want to go for the two year period.” They said, “You’re kidding me? They don’t even pay your way or even pay you to serve like the Red Cross?” I said, “No sir. They want to know this is something that you really want to do and that you’re serious about it.”
“Well, that’s one way to separate the boys from the girls, I guess!” I said, “Yes sir. That is for sure, but even women can go also.” He asked, “Do they get paid?” I said, “No sir. We all serve the same way except the girls serve for a 18 month period.” “Do you get to work with them?” “No,” I answered, “the sisters work together as companions and the men work together as companions. We are as one team but we work separately together. As a matter of fact we are not allowed to date or come home for two years, until we finish our mission. We totally dedicate two years of our lives to serving the Lord and His church.” They were all pretty amazed at this point and could not believe there was no social life for two years and we had to pay our own way. It blew them away. A few other kind jokes were made but it was all done with respect and in pretty good taste.
I told them I didn’t think I would ever serve on a mission but that, “I had an experience that has given me a change of heart and I have to go and do this. This is something I really want to do!” Coach Corey said, “Culley, I respect your religious dedication but can’t you put this off for six months? Why don’t you see what kind of year you’re going to have. You have got a great chance of getting a Division 1 scholarship. That could change your life. Why don’t you wait, see what happens and then look at all of your options?” He then paid me some great compliments on my work ethic and that, “You’re a great example to the team we need you.”
I told the coaches, “You have no idea how hard this is for me to just up and quit. I have wanted this chance for over 5 years and it’s right here in front of me now. It’s almost impossible for me to put into words why I have to do this and do this now, but I have to go and leave for my mission as soon as possible, before school and football season starts in a few weeks. I came here to tell you this in person and to thank you for all your time and effort in my behalf and for giving me this chance.”
I was so nervous and holding back my emotions like you can’t believe. The coaches were not pleased with my response and decision. As I shook each one of their hands, they wished me good luck halfheartedly and they said if I had a change of heart to let them know. I thanked them again and then left as quickly as possible. I was walking very fast. I needed to get to my car ASAP. I was emotionally losing it, so much so, that I started to jog to my car. Just as I did, I felt a hand grab me by the shoulder and call my name. I was startled for a second and as I turned around quickly, to my surprise, it was Coach McDonald.
Coach McDonald was not even one of my coaches. He coached the Defensive Ends and Line Backers. Just to let you know who this man was; he was without question the most respected coach on the entire football team. He was 35 years old, about 6’2”, weighed about 210 and had the physique of one of those Greek God statues. He ran 5 miles a day, a sub 7 minute pace per mile and he was an animal in the weight room. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, on the college campus knew who he was and NO ONE even thought twice about talking back to him, on or off the football field. As a matter of fact, he was so good at his job, he handled the conditioning program for the San Diego Chargers in their pre-season training camp.
Coach McDonald was ALL BUSINESS during football practice and of course, he did all of our team’s conditioning and training. What this man could do to you in just 5 minutes of running was amazing!!!! We did a series of sprints that lasted only 4 minutes and afterwards there was not one person standing. He had some grueling runs for us to do at the end of each practice and if you didn’t make his time goals that he gave you, you had to do another set. At the end of each practice we ALL dreaded what Coach McDonald was going to make us do. I always made it a point to come in first on almost all of his drills. Being a Running Back especially, I felt I was supposed to be the best runner and the best conditioned football player on the field. And if you wanted to get noticed and be given a chance, this was the best way to accomplish it.
That was how Coach McDonald got to know me and he was a man of few words who rarely passed out compliments. At the end of the drills he would sometimes say, “Great job Davis” or “Good effort” or “Way to push it.” Because of who he was and what he represented on the football field, hearing those few simple words meant the world to me. They made me feel like I had just won an Olympic Gold Medal or something.
So when I turned around and saw Coach McDonald with his hand on my shoulder, I was caught off guard and surprised. He said to me, “Hey, I just want you to know that what you said in there to all of us coaches took a lot of guts to do. I know from your work ethic on the football field that you were very serious about your goal and dream of playing football for a Division 1 football team and you would have done it. I want you to know that I have a great amount of respect for a man who has a conviction about something and then does something about it. You’re a good man and when you get back from that mission, look me up. I’d love to coach someone like you. I love coaching men with heart and dedication.”
He gave me a handshake and a slap on the back and said, “Good luck,” then we parted ways. I didn’t make it ten steps when I had to run over to a tree and started bawling my eyes out, almost uncontrollably. I was so touched by Coach McDonald’s kind words and the reality of what I had just said and done, that it hit me like a ton of bricks. The reality of what I had just done sunk in deep, but I knew I was doing the right thing. I never questioned that what I was doing at this time was right, but I did wonder what was going to happen next. All of my plans had just been turned upside down and I felt pretty alone. The experiences that were to soon follow would confirm all of this and much more, as you will soon see.
I met with my bishop and stake president and turned my missionary papers in. They came back quicker than normal, much quicker, which I feel was the Lord way of helping me so I would not have a change of heart. You see, when the word got out that I was not returning to play football again for the 1975-76 football season, I got some calls and visits from my football buddies and they were trying to talk me into staying home, just for ONE MORE SEASON!!!
I was also dating the college home coming queen, she was a recent convert to the church, she did not fully understand the importance of a mission either, and she even asked me if I really needed to go at this time as well.
When the call came in the mail as I said, much sooner than usual, I was called to the Ohio, Columbus Mission. I was asked to report to the Mission Training Center on August 13th 1975. This was just across the street from Temple Square. This was also my first time flying a commercial airline anywhere, a short hour and a half flight from Santa Ana California to Salt Lake City, Utah. I got there a day earlier than I was supposed to so I slept that first night alone in the entire mission complex, what looked like military barracks back then, with hundreds of bunk beds, row after row, room after room. I stared out the window that night just before bed time, looking at Temple Square asking myself what was going to happen next and what had I volunteered for now?