Back when ex-LA Rams running back Todd Gurley still had two good knees and was lighting up the scoreboard with his knack for finding the end zone, there was another back by the name of Justin Davis who was his backup, and toiling in anonymity.
Davis never saw the playing field very much, however, as the undrafted free agent did see action in just three games as a backup. Over two NFL seasons, he carried the ball three times for 20 yards. Garbage time, at that. But he did sniff the rarified air of the Super Bowl during his two-year tenure with the Rams, even if he never saw much NFL playing time. Got waived in 2019 and spent the 2020 season on the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals.
Now, at just 25 years of age, the six-foot-one, 199-pounder former USC tailback, is trying to keep his football dreams alive, vying for a roster spot or ideally, a starting job as a running back for the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks. He signed with the Ottawa Redblacks on July 16, 2021.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Canadian football, as if that really matters,” is one of those quotes that I think John Facenda (AKA “The Voice of God” for NFL Films) once said, as he was narrating a piece. Heard it first as a wee bairn, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Always made me smile.
The Redblacks are the fourth incarnation of a team to play in Ottawa, so perhaps you might have heard of their previous names: The Ottawa Rough Riders started in the 1800s, became the Ottawa Senators (1925–30), and then back to the Rough Riders (through 1996) and were one of the original CFL teams. But that team disbanded, and the intellectual property was purchased and relocated to Saskatchewan. The Ottawa CFL team reformed as the Renegades (2002-2005) but disbanded once more. One more time, the Ottawa CFL team reformed in 2010 and began competing in 2014. There hasn’t been a lot of success in Ottawa, although the Redblacks (French, Rouge et Noir d’Ottawa) won the Grey Cup (CFL’s version of the Lombardi trophy) five years ago in 2016.
And that win broke a 40-year drought for that city. Division champs in 2015, 2016, and 2018. The team’s main rival is the Montreal Alouettes. (and yes, if you are wondering how that team got its name, it is, indeed, named after the French children’s song.)
It’s not just the size of the field that’s different up there in America’s Top Hat, I guess.
Davis, who carried the ball 461 times for 2,465 yards and 19 touchdowns in four seasons at the University of Southern California, is hoping the wider field of the CFL will help showcase his abilities to play in space. And as for the wider field, he also told The Sun,
"“I love that the field is a little bit wider (in the CFL),” said Davis, who carried the ball 461 times for 2,465 yards and 19 touchdowns in four seasons at the University of Southern California. “The thing about my game – whether it’s running the ball or catching the ball – I just love being in the space. All this space in the CFL, this is kind of my wheelhouse. I just can’t wait to show my ability.” – Justin Davis per Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun"
And so Davis is now in the Redcats’ training camp and just trying to latch on, as his competitive spirit continues to burn brightly inside. He is already impressing the team’s head coach, Paul LaPolice, with his ability to deliver almost instantly upon arriving:
"“He’s got a big frame. He’s got a second gear, he runs the tight zone play really well – it’s a staple of ours. He can put his foot in the ground. For a guy who’d been in a hotel for a week and had an afternoon of meetings with our running backs coach – I thought Coach (Charlie) Eger prepared him well – I thought he responded. He’s somebody we’ll keep educating about the game, he’s got some tools.” – Per Ottawa Redblack Head Coach Paul LaPolice via Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun"
At just 25 years old, Davis is hoping his football aspirations can still remain alive.
Curiously, even as the LA Rams scramble to reseat their running back depth chart, a former running back is scrambling to renew his dream of playing football. Alanis Morrissette would say “Isn’t it ironic, doncha think? A little too ironic? Yeah, I really do think”.