Nick Davison's football career was over before he knew it.
Even before he tore up his left knee in the second game of the 2011 season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior defensive tackle had failed an NCAA drug test that would immediately make him ineligible.
The failed test was the result of an over-the-counter supplement purchased at a local nutrition store, Davison said. A substance in the supplement is banned by the NCAA.
"I wasn't trying to cheat the system," Davison told the Times Free Press. "I was just trying to prevent anything from happening [to my knees]."
Both Davison and his father, Mark, who paid for the supplement, said they can't remember the product's name or what the offending substance was. Mark said he has the credit card receipt but not the itemized copy.
The Davisons did not want the name of the store mentioned -- it's one in a chain -- because they don't want to hurt its reputation.
"It's sad it happened, but again I stress to you, it's our fault and nobody else's fault," Mark Davison said.
His son said his knees were bothering him during preseason practice and he and his father looked into supplements that could help ease or prevent the joint pain he was experiencing. They said they did some research but neglected to make sure all of the supplement's ingredients were cleared by the NCAA.
"I didn't bring it to our athletic people," Nick Davison said. "That's a lesson to be learned."
He said he had been taking the supplement for only a couple of days when he was among the UTC athletes randomly selected by the NCAA to take a drug test.
"I take it and don't think anything of it," he said of the test.
The feisty player from Calhoun, Ga., then suffered a torn ACL during a sack against Jacksonville State on Sept. 10. A few days after the injury, Davison said he was called into coach Russ Huesman's office.
Huesman was there along with head trainer Todd Bullard, the designated staff member regarding dietary supplements and NCAA banned drugs. (The NCAA mandated last August that all Division I schools have a staff member to advise players on what they can and can't take.)
"I thought we were going to talk about scheduling surgery or something," Davison said. "They tell me to sit down because they've got to talk to me about something and then tell me that I've failed an NCAA drug test."
UTC and Davison knew in early October, after his appeal was denied, that the preseason second-team All-Southern Conference pick's career was finished. UTC said nothing publicly about the positive test, citing the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which prohibits the school from releasing student information without the student's consent, and Davison and his family weren't talking until now.
Nobody from UTC would comment on Davison's case for this story, again citing FERPA. Speaking generally about supplements, Bullard said it's easy for athletes to think something's OK for them to use.
"The problem is that you can go into a Bi-Lo and find something on the shelf, and because you can just buy it off the shelf it gives you the understanding that it's legal and OK to use," he said. "I think we're doing everything we possibly can do today, but the players have to come to you. The message we're putting out there is, whatever you're even thinking about taking, clear it through me."
The NCAA's banned drug list, available on its website, includes numerous classes of drugs, from stimulants to anabolic agents to street drugs. The list provides some examples of banned substances, but on the website is the following: "NOTE: There is no complete list of banned drug examples."
The penalty for athletes when they test positive is the loss of "one full year of eligibility for the first offense (25 percent of their total eligibility)" and being "withheld from competition for a full season."
Davison eventually accepted his fate, had his knee surgery -- he said he now weighs 250 pounds, down 35 from his playing weight -- and by the time spring practice started in late February he was helping defensive line coach Marcus West. Davison wants to coach after he graduates in December, and Huesman offered him the chance to get a head start.
"He looks pretty good at it. He's in the office all the time learning, and I've been pretty impressed with him," Huesman said of the student-coach. "He was a good player, no question, and now he gives us an extra coach and set of eyes. I think he'll be good."
The Davisons told their story, Mark said, because it is a cautionary tale.
"What we bought was on the shelf, where any high school or college athlete can walk in and buy it," Mark said. "We should have done a better job with our research, and it cost Nick. The big thing is, I don't want to see it happen to another kid."
John Frierson is in his fifth year at the Times Free Press and fifth year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...