Athletes at several area high schools have challenged themselves during the past few months with the Warrior/Athlete Challenge Program, designed by William S. Davis to help them excel on and off the playing field when they're mentally, emotionally and physically fatigued.

Davis, a staff sergeant in the United States Army who recruits out of the Army's Dalton branch, started the program in June for several reasons.

First, "I wanted to give back to schools and the community," he said. In addition, it's a way for him to meet potential recruits and ensure those young people are fit — physically and mentally — for duty.

"In our profession, we need to look for qualified individuals to join, (but) it takes a special person to do this, not just anyone off the street," Davis said. Some are rejected because they're overweight, others because they're unable to pass the knowledge tests, and still others because they cannot handle hardships.

"So many people don't know how to react to adversity," Davis said. High school athletes, however, meet and defeat misfortune on a regular basis, they're physically fit, and they're intelligent.

The program is free for teams, and males or females in grades 9-12 can complete the workout, which is actually "more mental than physical," Davis said. While participants have to complete a series of physical tasks, pushing themselves past what they believe is their "max" is truly the highest hurdle.

Coahulla Creek High School was among the football teams that took the challenge this summer, and coach Caleb Bagley noted that "You don't know where the edge is until you get to it and know what it feels like to give your all."

"It's not unsafe or anything, but they take (players) to the wall," Bagley said. "It's very intense, but a lot of it is mental."

"We kind of fluster them a little bit," Davis explained. "I want them to (complete the tasks) when they're tired."

Often, teams "don't know how to finish in the fourth quarter," he said. By pushing themselves beyond their assumed limits with the program, "I hope they finish" this season.

Davis breaks teams into smaller groups, and he'll often eliminate team leaders so others are forced to fill the void, he said. For example, on a run simulating combat, he'll tell a group their leader has been killed or injured, so they have to carry him or her.

"They were relying" on that person, he said. "Others (now) have to fill that role."

Coahulla Creek assigned at least one coach to each group to watch how players reacted, and "we had some younger kids, some freshmen and sophomores who usually don't say a lot, step up to the forefront," Bagley said. "It was really good for our kids and definitely something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Since June, Davis has led the program — which takes roughly two hours — at 16 high schools in Alabama and Georgia, including several in Whitfield County. He's willing to work with any coach in any sport, and, if they're interested, he can be reached at (423) 680-0916.

After a winless 2018 campaign, Murray County High School's football program made several changes prior to this season, including bringing in Davis this summer for the program, and the Indians already have multiple wins this year.

"We've had a lot of off-field victories with our kids, too, not just wins and losses on the football field," said Chad Brewer, Murray County's coach. "I'd definitely recommend" the program to others, and "I want to do it again."

Bagley echoed those sentiments, saying, "We would love to make it an annual thing."

Bagley and Davis already had a relationship based on previous interactions, so when the latter mentioned he was trying to get this program off the ground, the former said he'd be eager to have his team undergo the challenge.

"It's great to do something different during the summer," Bagley said. "Things can get kind of routine."

Davis approached Brewer about the possibility, and "I thought it would be great," Brewer said. "It's very intense — a very good workout — and we needed it as a team-builder."

Teamwork is paramount to succeed in the program.

"How you work together makes it easier," Davis said. "If it's 'Me, me, me,' it's going to be hard."

He hopes to expand the program throughout the state and even nationally.

"Every coach has loved it," because "you find leaders within the team," he said. In fact, several coaches have told Davis that players they thought were leaders revealed themselves not to be so during the program, while other athletes they never thought would be leaders in fact took up that banner.

The program "puts kids in situations where someone has to step up and be a leader," Brewer said. "Coaches can't say anything, the kids have to do it."

"It was tough, but it was something we needed," he added. "At the end, everyone had a sense of accomplishment, (so) it was a great day for us."

Bagley was impressed by how well-organized the challenge was by Davis.

"They came out a few days before, and we kind of mapped out the course," Bagley said. "It was phenomenal."

Davis could have joined any service branch, but he opted for the Army because "they let me choose my job," he said. During his eight years with the Army, he went to Airborne School, spent three years in Italy, then was stationed in Columbus, Ohio, after changing his specialty to logistics.

He's been a recruiter in Dalton for a year, and it's his favorite job yet, especially since he started the program, he said.

"I get to change somebody's life, and I'm glad I get to be part of that."

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