2016 My Cause My Cleats: Davis left poverty behind to recognize his dream

When the pads come off, Thomas Davis keeps doing the work. Discover his and other NFL players' charitable causes in their own words at The Players' Tribune as part of a special My Cause My Cleats collaboration with NFL Media.

Below is an excerpt from a personal piece from Davis outlining his struggles with poverity growing up in Shellman, Ga. and how that upbringing shapes his desire to give back to communities like the one he grew up in.

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When I was 16 years old, my momma took my little sister and left me.

But she didn't leave outta anger. She didn't leave because she was overwhelmed. She left me 'cause she loved me.

Allow me to explain.

I grew up in Shellman, Ga. You ever heard of it? Probably not. Shellman's got a population of just around 1,000 people. It's a pretty poor community, and there's not much opportunity out there. For as long as I can remember, things haven't changed. People simply don't make it outta here.

Some of my friends growing up had a ton of talent on the football field - probably more talent than me. But they either didn't get noticed by recruiters or they went down the wrong road. In fact, a lot of them are still living in Shellman. I often say the fact that I made it out of Shellman at all is a miracle. It simply just doesn't happen.

Ultimately, the biggest motivation for me was learning from some of the mistakes my friends made - whether they were doing drugs or something illegal - and seeing how much my momma struggled. It was tough.

See, my mother and father separated when I was very young, and my sister and I lived with my momma. We lived in an enormous amount of poverty. I'm talkin' downright hardship. No matter how hard my mom tried - taking a job here or working the night shift there - we just never had much. But it wasn't her fault - it was just a fact of life.

And our situation affected my sister and me in almost every way.

You know how excited kids get for the first day of school? That was me, man. I loved going to school. I never wanted to miss a day. I mean, I can remember waking up late some days, missing the bus, quickly throwing on whatever clothes I could find and running to catch the same bus down on another block. I could've easily skipped out, but, nah, that wasn't for me.

I'll never forget the first day of third grade. My mom had been working all summer long, but she still didn't have enough money to buy me a new pair of shoes. I had grown out of my sneakers over the summer.

So I went to school in cleats from a local Family Dollar store, because normal shoes were too expensive.

When I climbed onto the bus, I kept my head down so I didn't catch anyone's eye. It was embarrassing, but that was my reality. There were some years when I started school without a backback, or without pens or binders. It's not like I was the only one who had to do without them. A bunch of Shellman kids were dealing with the same problems.

There were a lot of things I couldn't do because my momma didn't have financial resources. I'm talking simple things, like going on school field trips to the zoo or whatever. You needed to have money to go on these field trips, but we didn't have the extra cash. Living from paycheck to paycheck was a very real thing for us. All our money went to two things: food and bills. That was it.

While everything seemed to be out of my reach - from normal shoes to school supplies to field trips - I did try to take advantage of every opportunity I could. So growing up, I played sports. I feel like I never went home after school because all I wanted to do was stay on the court or on the field. Sports were free, which meant I could play them all I wanted. And man, that was perfect for my momma and me.

The older I got, the more people started to notice my athleticism. At Randolph-Clay High, I played football, basketball, baseball and track. Early on, I established myself as one of the best athletes to ever go to Randolph-Clay. It was clear that if I continued on the right path, I was going to have a chance to earn an athletic scholarship to college - a rare ticket out of Shellman.

But for as well as things were going on the football field, things were going badly for my family financially. Even as my sister and I tried to help out by taking on odd jobs, my mom just couldn't earn enough to support the family. And it all come to a head when I was in 11th grade.

To read the rest of Thomas Davis' account of making it out of Shellman to thrive in the NFL and start doing community outreach to help others in need achieve their dreams, visit The Players' Tribune.

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