In its truest form, the term “student-athlete” refers to a young man or woman striving for excellence on the field and in the classroom, as an athlete, a leader, and a person. Duke Soccer captain and Red Bulls Academy graduate Sean Davis has spent the last four years doing just that.
Now, Davis is being recognized as a finalist for a Senior CLASS Award. The CLASS award, which gets its name from an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, aims to recognize senior student-athletes that excel in four areas – community, character, classroom and competition.
Davis, a native of Holmdel, N.J., is widely considered one of the best midfielders in the nation. He is also consistently one of the top student-athletes at Duke, is a leader with several organizations around campus and has been recognized for his community service efforts as well.
His play on the field speaks for itself. The two-time captain recorded one goal and an ACC-leading 10 assists this season, despite missing four games to injury. Davis is a two-time All-ACC second team selection, an NSCAA All-South Region second team honoree, and was voted Duke’s offensive MVP after the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Best XI first team last summer, and was part of the Red Bulls U-23 team that captured the NPSL Championship at Red Bull Arena in August.
“Sean was a key member of our championship team,” said Simon Nee, head coach of the Red Bulls U-23 program. “Sean was invited to train full-time with the first team this past summer, which gives you an indication of how highly we rate his potential at the club.”
Davis has played soccer from a young age. At 13 he was invited to play with an Olympic development team, coached by Rob Elliot. When Elliot joined the Red bulls Academy staff a few years later, Davis was one of his first calls.
“Sean is a very smart player,” said Elliot. “He has a good head on his shoulders and has worked very hard over the years to improve his game. He deserves all the accolades he is getting due to his commitment and attitude toward getting better every day as a player. He has remained focused and humble, and I look forward to watching him progress to the next stage of his career.”
Coming out of high school, Davis was Top Drawer Soccer’s No. 3 overall recruit, and the top recruit in the state of New Jersey. He credits the Red Bulls Academy with preparing him for the collegiate game.
“I was well prepared in terms of meeting the standards that are expected of me every day,” said Davis. “The self-evaluations that were required after every academy game really exemplified the emphasis the academy put on improving on a week-to-week basis.”
He saw Duke as an opportunity to become the best he possibly could both on and off the field.
“Duke has provided me every opportunity to succeed and is responsible for my maturation not only as a player, but more importantly, as a person,” said Davis.
In addition to all of the awards and accolades that come with being one of the nation’s top players, Davis has also earned recognition off the field. In 2013 he was honored with an ACC Top Six for Service Award for his volunteer work and community service efforts with groups such as Read with the Blue Devils, Durham Rescue Missions, and the Duke Dance Marathon, an event that rose over $80,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network.
“It’s great to be recognized for those things,” said Davis. “It’s a huge honor. To be recognized in front of all the student-athletes was a really cool feeling. It’s nice that people notice, but it’s also just great to give back.”
Being a leader seems to come naturally for Davis. The two-time captain of the Duke Soccer team has been a mentor to teammates. That role has been amplified this season, as Davis guided a young team – including 13 freshmen – to the second round of the ACC Tournament, where they fell to top-seeded Syracuse. The Blue Devils now await the NCAA Tournament selections on Monday to see if their season will continue.
In the first round of the tournament against North Carolina State, Davis provided the spark for a late comeback to keep the season alive. His assist in the final minute tied the game and sent it to overtime. Davis then swung in a corner that provided the golden-goal winner. And where was the hero in the following moments, while his teammates mobbed each other and ran over to the student section? Davis was still on the field, shaking the hands of the opponents who had just seen their season come to an end.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” said Davis. “I thought they played a really good game, and even though it was amazing for us I could just imagine how difficult it was for them. It was important for me to show my respect for them, and congratulate them for a game well played.”
Davis’ leadership goes well beyond his own team. He was an early supporter of Duke’s chapter of the Athlete Ally program, which aims to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. Davis currently sits on the Athlete Ally executive board as the Vice President, and was instrumental in the program becoming an official student group recognized by the university.
“When I came to Duke, it’s a very liberal school, and one of my best friends here is gay,” said Davis. “So it kind of opened my eyes to the day-to-day life, and the things that they struggle with. It was important for me to try and combat issues where I could, which is in the realm of athletics.”
The Duke chapter of Athlete Ally has grown tremendously in the last year, and even won Best New Student Group at the Duke Student Leadership Awards. The group has worked with many of Duke’s athletic programs, according to Davis.
“We’ve expanded to many different teams. We’ve talked to different teams throughout the year to try and raise awareness about language, and things like that. We’ve tried to create a better culture in the locker room, just because you never know who it affects. Watching the organization grow is something that has been really exciting for me.”
Davis is also a leader in Duke’s ACTION athlete program, serving as a mentor to freshmen student-athletes and supporting them during their transition to college life. Davis serves as a personal mentor to eight freshmen, meeting with them regularly throughout the year and acting as a supporter, a counselor and a friend.
“These are just things that I really care about, and I know will be important for my future going forward,” said Davis, speaking of his numerous off-field endeavors.
All of the extra-curriculars don’t seem to be work for Davis. In fact, instead of viewing his life as a constant juggling act, Davis says balancing so many activities actually helps him stay focused.
“If soccer isn’t going well I know I’m still doing well in school, and succeeding in another area of my life. Or, vice-versa, if school isn’t going well. It’s just a way to kind of balance everything out. It’s my way of dealing with all of the different challenges in front of me.”
If being a top athlete and campus leader wasn’t enough, Davis also maintains a 3.8 GPA, and is on-track to graduate a semester early with a degree in sociology, and a Markets and Management Certificate. He has qualified for Duke’s Deans List four times and earned All-ACC Academic Team recognition, and made the ACC Academic Honor Roll, after each of the previous three seasons.
“Of course, you have to sacrifice things like video games, and Netflix, and those sorts of things that college kids enjoy, but I know that these things I’m doing are going to be very worthwhile going forward.”
Davis upped his course load to finish college a semester early, with the intent of spending the spring focusing on soccer, and preparing for an opportunity to play at the next level. The prospect of a career as a professional athlete did not deter him from putting a full effort into his studies.
“It is something that I am very proud of,” said Davis. “I always saw it as a challenge, and it really motivated me to do the best that I can with the time that I have.”
Looking at his resume, it’s hard to argue that Davis has achieved anything less than his best in his time at Duke. With a chance at a professional career looming, and a degree from a top university in hand, the possibilities are endless for Davis’ future. But, as with everything he does, Davis is spending his final weeks at Duke focused on making the most of the present, and trying not to think too much about what lies ahead.
“At this point, I’m trying to enjoy every last second here. When the season ends I’ll reevaluate my plans for the future, but at this point, I just want to enjoy my remaining time at Duke.”
Voting for the 2014 Men’s Soccer Senior CLASS Award runs through Monday, November 24th. Individuals can vote once per day through the 24th on the Senior CLASS website.