While getting up after delivering a jarring hit to Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo that silenced the crowd in Reno, Nevada last Saturday, CSU linebacker Aaron Davis gave his latest victim a little extra shove in the chest.
“I didn’t realize I did it honestly,” Davis said as he laughed looking back on it. “I was just pumped and trying to get up. I didn’t realize it until I watched film.”
It is not much of a surprise that Davis barely recalls the incident. From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, the native of Norwalk, California goes into a different state of mind.
On game day, Davis turns into an entirely different person than the laid-back guy whose infectious laugh, warm smile and friendly personality will brighten your day.
“It’s fun and games off the field but as soon as Aaron steps out there he’s just ferocious,” cornerback Bernard Blake said.
That transformation comes easily to Davis. The product of an athletic family, he has been around football his whole life, but he has also been around the calm California lifestyle for quite some time as well.
“I was born in Norwalk. It’s like Long Beach but it’s a little town,” he said. “The area isn’t very good but my parents wanted me to have a good education.”
So they sent him to Los Alamitos High School in Orange County.
“It was kind of by the beach so there were a lot of surfer guys,” Davis recalled. “That might be where I got it from.”
The “it” he’s referring to is his calm demeanor when the helmet comes off. Even immediately following a long practice Davis is all smiles.
“I guess I’ve always been kind of a chill guy,” Davis said with a grin, “but I like to hit people too.”
Watch any CSU game and you’ll see that he’s not kidding. Davis leads the Rams in tackles (57 total, 30 solo) and is good for at least one thunderous hit every game.
It doesn’t take much for him to flip that switch and turn into a different person than the cool guy who still rides his longboard to class.
“Aaron is a businessman as I like to call it,” safety Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “He’s all about fun when it comes to life but when he puts that helmet on he turns into something else. He turns into a guy I wouldn’t want to mess with on the field.”
But off the field, he flips that switch off and reverts back to the guy who relaxes by playing the ukulele with teammates Nu’uvali Fa’apito and George Maumau.
“I’m half-Samoan so we have that Polynesian bond,” Davis said. “Maumau taught me the uke and I picked it up from there.”
Now he’s passing that wisdom onto other members of the defense.
“Aaron’s our little ukulele leader. Maumau was our original dude,” Fa’apito said. “They taught basically half of the team. Now we’ve got kids from Florida and all over learning the ukulele.”
Amongst those who have picked up the instrument is junior safety Trent Matthews, who will gladly tell you he was the fastest learner.
“Trent picked it up okay for a lefty,” Davis joked. “Tyree [Simmons] picked it up fast too but Joe Kawulok is my best prodigy right now.”
Those on the team who haven’t learned the instrument still chip in on vocals sometimes.
No one teases Davis about his unique hobby, but he remembers getting teased for something else when he first arrived at CSU: his weight.
“My freshman year when I first got here I was about 190 (lbs.), if that,” Davis laughed. “I told them I play linebacker, ya know. And everyone… they still tell me today, ‘when you first got here, man, we thought you were sorry,’ but when I stepped on the field they were shocked.”
He has been proving the doubters wrong ever since, including the Pac-12 schools such as Washington who had shown interest during his high school career but stopped calling as signing day approached.
Davis is not bitter about being passed up back then because of his size – he’s too easygoing for that – but he has not forgotten either.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” he said, “but you know, I’m just blessed to be here. You never know who’s going to give you the opportunity. When you get that opportunity you just have to go seize it and you’ll be alright.”
That’s the nice Aaron Davis talking though. He doesn’t need to take verbal shots at anyone or dwell on the past.
He would rather save his energy for opposing backs, who would probably have a hard time believing what a nice guy he is. After all, they only get to see Aaron when he’s in game mode.
But when he snaps out of game mode, it is the polar opposite.
“Sometimes you walk by him and just want to ask, ‘why are you so happy?’” Blake joked.
The blistering hits Davis lays come just as naturally to him as the cool demeanor he carries himself with.
His instincts and tackling make Davis a terror on the field. The ukulele is just a bonus.
Collegian Staff Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @emccarthy22.