St. Charles North graduate Tyler Davis' road to the upcoming Rose Bowl is, to say the least, a unique one.
And it's the perfect example of how hard work can make dreams come true.
Davis, now a senior place-kicker on the Penn State University football team, hadn't sniffed a football field prior to his college years.
"I played soccer pretty much my whole life," he said.
After playing club and high-school soccer at North, Davis headed to Bradley University in Peoria to continue his career in that sport.
"At that point, soccer still was my passion," he said. "I wanted to make a career out of soccer. The team at Bradley was great, the soccer was good, but I didn't like the school and tried to transfer."
Around the same time Davis tried his hand at football placekicking with a friend who kicked at Oregon. "It was nothing serious," he said. "My friend said I did pretty well. It was suggested I go to a camp. I told my parents I was going to do this and they were like, 'whatever.' "
Davis ended up kicking at a Midwest showcase event that attracted college transfers and top high-school kids. "I did really well there," he said.
Two weeks later, Davis called his soccer coach at Bradley and asked to be released from scholarship. "I loved everything about soccer and that was the more realistic thing," he said. "Football was kind of a fallback, but I loved kicking."
He didn't get the release from Bradley.
"My only option was football," he said. "I went to one more camp (at Lewis University in Romeoville) and I won the competition there (he won the kickoff and field-goal portions as well as the overall camp competition title)."
Davis went on some college visits and received preferred walk-on offers at Penn State and Ohio State.
"The rest is history," he said.
Davis is now part of a No. 5 Penn State team that won the Big Ten Conference title game and brings an 11-2 record into its Jan. 2 matchup with No. 9 Southern California in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Penn State is in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.
Davis, a junior eligibility-wise but a senior on the academic side, has made all 55 of his point-after attempts this season and is 22 of 24 on field-goal attempts. He leads Penn State players in scoring with 121 points. Davis is 7-for-7 on field goals inside 30 yards and has connected on all three attempts from 40 yards or longer this season.
Last year, Davis' redshirt sophomore year, he connected on all his PAT (11-for-11) and field-goal attempts (8-for-8). Davis was redshirted in 2014 as a true sophomore after playing soccer at Bradley his freshman year.
"When I look back now it's definitely crazy to think where I was two or two-and-a-half years ago," he said. "Placekicking came pretty natural to me. I've taken some of my friends out who are good at soccer and wanted to try it and it's not as easy as it looks. Something clicked with me. It's the same motion, but the biggest thing is getting the ball in the air. Kickoffs were a little harder to learn because I wasn't used to the tee. I'm still working on kickoffs."
Davis, who handles PATs and field goals but does not kick off, said his biggest improvement has been in the consistency department. "I've always had a pretty big leg," he said. "You're not going to make all of them all the time so the biggest thing is the focus and the preparation and the practice and the commitment."
Davis and his Penn State teammates are thrilled to be participants in one of the most storied college football bowl games, which is in its 103rd iteration.
"Of course, we wanted to be in the final four teams (College Football Playoff), but we're very excited to be in the Rose Bowl, which arguably is the biggest bowl game," said Davis, an economics major at Penn State. "We're going to be playing a very good USC team. Both teams are on fire right now so it should be a really good game."
Looking back, Davis still can't believe he's about to kick on one of the grandest stages of them all and in front of a massive television audience (kickoff is 4:10 p.m. Chicago time on Jan. 2 on ESPN).
"When I was trying to get recruited it was so tough," he said. "I had never played before in my life and the only thing I had was some film of me kicking by myself on a field. There were times when I thought I wasn't going to play football or sports again. This has been awesome."
Mike Miazga has been writing about Fox Valley area athletes for more than two decades. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.