1-on-1 with 49ers DT Kalia Davis: The comeback story

Dec 12, 2023, 10:30 AM | Updated: Dec 13, 2023, 11:27 am

Kalia Davis #93 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts during the fourth quarter in the game against the...

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 03: Kalia Davis #93 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts during the fourth quarter in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 03, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers have a plethora of talent on both sides of the football. But just like that famous saying from the basketball team in downtown San Francisco: Strength in Numbers.

The same goes for the 49ers and second-year defensive tackle Kalia Davis.

Davis was a highly-touted prospect coming out of UCF in 2022, expected to go early on Day 3 in the NFL Draft. Then, he blew out his knee towards the end of his final collegiate season. Now facing a steeper climb back to a successful career, all the odds seem stacked against him over the last 24 months. And yet, he keeps on pushing.

Sitting out his entire rookie season, Davis finally made his NFL debut in Week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles. And he did not disappoint.

The Florida native contributed the final sack of the night in Philly, cleaning up the work of counterparts in the fourth quarter of a 42-19 victory. While it might seem like a small victory for some, the moment meant everything to Davis and his journey over the last two years.

Below is Sactown Sports’ exclusive interview with the 49ers DT, breaking down what he’s learned along the road to recovery, and what he plans to contribute to the 49ers moving forward.

This interview with Kalia Davis was conducted prior to Week 14 of the 2023 NFL regular season.

Question: Coming off the Eagles game, obviously you got your first sack, big, big moment for you. What was that moment like for you after the last 18 months coming back from injuries?

Kalia: Surreal bro, what I had to go through to get to the point I’m at now. Just let me know how my hard work paid off. Being in the room with guys like that, seeing them happy on the sideline, for me is a blessing, for sure.

Q: There’s a video going around of you and [49ers DT Arik Armstead] talking about getting your sack, getting out there on the field. And then when you got it, everyone started cheering, [Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey], even the offensive coaches. What does it mean to be a part of a group like this that embraces every single member?

Kalia: It just makes me want to go harder. See guys like that pushing me every day, I’m pushing them back. It allows everyone to grow, go forward. So, blessed to be here.

Q: Talk to me about the last 18 months, you got drafted by the 49ers. Obviously, you were a sixth-round pick, you would have gone a little bit higher if not for the ACL injury at the end of college. What was the recovery like to basically redshirt your rookie season and then come back and going up the depth chart?

Kalia: It was tough man. Just wasn’t really used to sitting back and watching people play. Every time we lose, just wishing you was out there. Just sitting back and just watching was really tough for me, especially when we had a couple of the defensive tackles go down last year. I wish I could have been ready, but everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t really trade anything; I’m glad I went through the journey.

Q: Do you feel like you’re better off now that you took your time with recovery and getting back on the field?

Kalia: Oh, yes. Honestly, I just wasn’t ready. I’m just happy that I’m back. Blessed to be around guys I can really learn from, I take little tidbits from everybody.

Q: A lot of guys in the D-Line group lean on Arik [for advice/wisdom], but who is someone who you leaned on the last year and a half to really get you through the recovery?

Kalia: [49ers DT] Javon Kinlaw, most definitely. Ever since I came here, he hit my phone as soon as I got a drafted. As far as going through ACL recovery, I just really asked him what was his journey like. Asking him ‘Where I should be at around this time out of surgery and stuff like that. That’s my dog, man, I’d go as far as to say he’s my best friend. Talk to him everyday.

Q: How have you grown mentally with how you look at football in the NFL compared to college?

Kalia: Oh, just being around, especially the guys in the [locker] room. [Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek], I’ve grown tremendously [under him]. The knowledge I got now compared to when I got it into college is crazy.

Q: Every rookie has their moment where it’s like, ‘Man, I’m in the NFL’. Was there a moment, even last year, that stuck out to you?

Kalia: I remember we were in a preseason game. I was watching the game from the sideline and I just looked up one moment I looked at [coach Kyle Shanahan] and I was like, ‘Damn, I used to see him on TV’. Right then and thereI was like, ‘Oh, I’m really in the NFL’. That’s crazy.

Q: The 49ers signed [DT] Javon Hargrave this year. You guys have very similar statues, have you talked to him about he prepares his game?

Kalia: He has a lot of moves that I’ve never seen before. Obviously, he wasn’t really here in the offseason, but when he got here I was getting with them. Asking him ‘how do you do [this play or technique]?’  He’s given me some tips and pointers, especially in the pass rush. He gave me my first sack, gave me a little layup sack.

Q: I mean, you still got the sack.

Kalia: Everybody just complements each other.

Q: Is that what you love about this group, you guys really play complimentary football.

Kalia: Yeah, most definitely. Everybody is selfless, very selfless, you know, everybody. You don’t see [this] everywhere. I mean, they’re really happy, their [excitement] is real genuine. Everybody wants to see you succeed.

Q: What was your mentality going into Week 13, knowing this would your biggest opportunity of your career thus far?

Kalia: [When] I found out I was gonna be [active], I just thought back on the journey man. Obviously, I wanted to play this year and it wasn’t really going my way, but you just gotta be ready. It’s the NFL, you gotta be ready for when your time comes. Whether you’re on the practice squad, [active roster], whatnot, even if you’re a new guy who just came in last year, you got to be ready. Obviously, I’ve been working for this moment and I’m just happy that I get to do my thing.

YouTube video

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule:

  • Sunday, Dec. 17th @ Arizona Cardinals – 1:05 p.m. PST
  • Monday, Dec. 25th vs. Baltimore Ravens – 5:15 p.m. PST
  • Sunday, Dec. 31st @ Washington Commanders – 10:00 a.m. PST
  • Sunday, Jan. 7th vs. Los Angeles Rams – TBD

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