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Carl Davis didn't fully comprehend the difficulty of his upbringing until he left Detroit's west side. But as a child, he didn't know anything different than inner-city life.

"Growing up, we just didn't have a lot," he said. "The only thing I ever needed from living down there was a basketball rim, and I was fortunate to have that."

Living at Joy Road and Appoline Street, Davis said his neighborhood friends would come over and play basketball from the time school ended until the sun went down. He also boxed at nearby Kronk Gym from fourth through eighth grade, where he met royalty, including Thomas "Hitman" Hearns and the late Emanuel Steward

But standing 6-foot by seventh grade and weighing 300 pounds by ninth grade, football became a more likely career path. And when the NFL draft begins today, the 6-5, 320-pound defensive tackle who went to Iowa has a chance to hear his name called in the first or second round.

The past few months have been "fun and crazy at the same time," Davis said.

As a starter the last two years, Davis had 3.5 sacks, but impressed at Senior Bowl practices in January against top-tier offensive line prospects.

"I think what Carl Davis showed was he had a combination of power and athleticism that flashed on tape, but this time it flashed against consistent competition he was up against in practice," NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said. "It's all there on tape just not consistently."

He relished the opportunity to show he could beat offensive linemen one on one, and scouts voted him the most outstanding practice player of the week.

"I went in there with a mindset that I wanted to dominate anybody that gets in front of me, and I pretty much did that," he said. "I just wanted to stand out in front of all those coaches and let them know what they're getting when they get Carl Davis."

What teams are getting is someone who had to grow up quickly. When he was 9, Davis' parents divorced, and in addition to his mother, he lived with an older sister and younger brother.

"It definitely just helped me create my own identity for what I want to be as a man," he said. "I had my mom and I saw what she needed and I had to grow up fast."

As a freshman, Davis went to Dearborn Heights Annapolis High. As a sophomore, he moved in with his cousin and went to Hazel Park High. At both schools, Davis played offense.

"Everywhere I went they always tried to play me at offensive tackle, and I always tried to tell them that I'm a defensive tackle," he said. "I felt like I was more aggressive and wanted to play on the defensive side of the ball."

As a junior, Davis moved to Sterling Heights when his mother remarried, and the staff gave him a chance at defense.

Former Stevenson coach Rick Bye said there were some initial questions about Davis' conditioning and toughness, but as a senior, Davis became a leader on a team that lost in the Division 1 state championship game.

"He was a kid that just wanted to join in and wanted to be groomed," Bye said.

In addition to playing basketball and boxing, which helped with his footwork and hand placement, Davis learned his position from Lions offensive tackle Riley Reiff.

While he played offense in high school, Davis understood the mentality. But Reiff — a 2012 first-round pick from Iowa — passed along more advice.

And though he has defensive tackle attributes, Davis believes he can play anywhere on the line.

"I really love the game, and it's truly a blessing to be able to play it," he said.

josh.katzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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