SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Leonard Davis is one of the NFL's biggest men today because his parents, both of whom had lost spouses, found each other in small-town Texas and decided to add one more child to their already enormous blended family.
He became No. 22 in the brood, between them.
No wonder Davis has been such a perfect fit in Jim Harbaugh's family-oriented San Francisco locker room since the 12th-year guard signed with the 49ers this summer.
When his mother remarried, Sammie Lee Davis never doubted she would have one more child to give her 11.
Little did she know, her last would wind up a 6-foot-6, 355-pound offensive lineman. After all, Davis was born at a healthy, yet rather average 71/2 pounds, less than a month after she turned 40.
He got big in a hurry.
"I've been the biggest since Day 1," Davis said, "From kindergarten all the way through."
In fact, Davis began growing so fast he was out of his infant clothes in no time, and he fussed so regularly his mom finally realized he was just plain hungry. All the time.
"I started to put a teaspoon of baby rice in his bottle with formula, and it was just like you gave him a sleeping pill," she recalled.
Sammie Lee was twice a widow when she married Davis' dad. She lost her first husband in a car accident and her second to cancer. L.A. Davis, a minister who died in 2007, was already a father to 11 of his own before his first wife died of a hemorrhage.
One of his young sons was in school with one of her daughters.
Davis is doing a much better job keeping track of the 49ers' complex playbook than he ever has remembering how many nieces and nephews he has, let alone their names.
"People don't have that many kids nowadays," said Davis, a father of two girls, 9-year-old Meeya and 7-year-old Mariya.
Davis emerged as a rock-solid run-blocker during his best seasons from 2007-2010 with the Dallas Cowboys, who released him before training camp in 2011. He started every game from 2006, his last season in Arizona, through 2010.
Yet the 34-year-old Davis didn't play a single snap last season after signing with Detroit in November.
Then, Davis had offseason foot surgery. Harbaugh gave him a shot after Davis visited the 49ers this spring. He signed four months later, ahead of training camp.
His former Lions (1-0) come to town for San Francisco's home opener Sunday night at Candlestick Park in a matchup of projected NFC contenders. Davis comes in as an extra blocker, lining up at tight end, in some sets for the 49ers (1-0).
"It feels like he's fit in, he's one of us. Another guy that's just a pure joy to be around," Harbaugh said Monday. "Pure, pure athlete and good guy."
When an IndyCar was displayed at a recent practice, Harbaugh joked that Davis probably weighed a third of the car.
"Big Leonard," as he is sometimes referred, didn't mind, knowing it was all in good fun. If Davis was sensitive to jokes about his size, he might have walked away years ago.
He earned the nickname "BIGG" after reaching 6-0, 205 pounds as a fifth-grader. By seventh grade, he was 6-4, 300.Comment on this story
"I've been big all my life," said Davis, drafted out of Texas by the Cardinals with the second overall pick in 2001 behind Michael Vick. "It's not like I graduated high school 200 pounds and three years later I'm 350 or whatever. It wasn't like that. That kind of stuff doesn't bother me. Plus, for Coach to say something like that, he's not saying it in a mean way. That's just all jokes."
Most of his siblings had already moved out of the house by the time he came along, though he grew up with three sisters and a niece and nephew in the house. And the sister closest to him in age was 10 years older.
"It was stressful at times. They did whatever they could do to keep the family moving along," said Davis. "Sometimes you have heartaches and sometimes you have joy. Most of it was joyful living."
Davis graduated high school at nearly his current size. He is happy to say he was rarely teased for his unique size.