Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis is stretching ahead of the team's Week 3 matchup against the Jaguars.
The cleat on Davis' left foot is emblazoned with the colors and coat of arms of the Mexican flag, with "Yo soy Mexicano," visible across the top. On the outside of the cleat on Davis' right foot, the word "esquinero," which means cornerback in Spanish, appears in big, white lettering. "Yo soy Michael Davis," is on the front of the right cleat, and on the instep are three letters: "ANA," the first name of his mother.
In honor of Latino Heritage Month, Davis was among four players gifted specially designed 1 of 1 cleats by El Snap NFL as part of the NFL's season-long "Por La Cultura" campaign. In addition to paying homage to his mother, Ana Martinez, whom he calls his "best friend," and to their Mexican heritage, the footwear aligned with the 27-year-old's desire to serve as a role model for others who share his background.
Davis does not remember watching many Mexican NFL players in his youth. Growing up in Glendale, California, he looked up to soccer stars like Ronaldinho and Chicharito. Now, in his sixth pro season, he is determined to continue making a positive impact with his own career.
"I try to do my best representing the Hispanic culture, representing Mexico," said Davis, who is also Black. "I feel like it just shows everybody, even Hispanic kids, that it's possible, anything is possible. We are able to play in the NFL."
Davis, who regularly spent time in Mexico with his mother as a kid, said that "football is not really a big sport in Mexico. It's futbol, like soccer, and baseball and basketball. It just goes to show that Hispanics can branch out and play different sports. Play in the NFL, which is an American-dominated sport."
It was not always a given that Davis would end up in the league. Drawn to the game by a desire to "fit in" with his friends, who he says preferred football, among other sports, to soccer, Davis said he started with flag football, then graduated to tackle. After playing at BYU from 2013 to '16, Davis went undrafted in 2017, catching on with the Chargers as a free agent.
"I kept telling Michael, never give up," Martinez said. "If you want to accomplish something, you need to continue."
In addition to determination, Martinez wanted to teach him about their heritage.
"I wanted him to know where I came from and for him to know my family," said Martinez, who is from Mexico. "For him to be able to interact with everybody, my entire family. For him to see what it was like when we gathered and what we do as a family. What type of food I grew up with, the music, the Catholic beliefs that my family instilled in me. I passed that to him."
Davis was a regular presence on the Chargers' defense in the previous three seasons, starting double-digit games in each campaign. But his career trajectory has taken a turn this season, as he's assumed a backup role.
As he did in Week 1, Davis started in relief of J.C. Jackson against the Jaguars, logging 10 tackles, but in the two games Jackson played this season, Davis logged all of his snaps on special teams.
Take a look at players and coaches across the league proudly celebrating Latino Heritage Month as part of the league's season-long Por La Cultura campaign.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said Friday that Davis is "going to be a big factor for us this season." He also acknowledged the impact Davis' example can set for people watching him.
"Hopefully he can be that example of young kids, boys and girls, of where you can go," Staley said. "He's just been a great teammate and a great player to coach, for sure."
For the veteran, who listed as a goal being "an all-around better corner," Latino Heritage Month is all about seeing more representation in the league, and for kids growing up to believe that anything is possible, no matter what their background is, as long as they are willing to put in the work. It's also about continuing to persevere through life's challenges while staying true to yourself.
"Just to be proud of who you are," he said. "There have been times because I am Black and I am Mexican that everything's been pointed down toward me. Everything is stacked against me, or stacked against people like me. Who cares? Be proud of who you are and overcome the odds."
Martinez said she feels "so happy and proud of" Davis.
"I know he has a lot to accomplish still in regards to the NFL but I'm happy and thankful to God that he's still there."