It's been nine months since Demario Davis decided to play for the New Orleans Saints.
His reason was simple.
Through seven NFL seasons, the linebacker watched the Saints from afar while playing six years with the New York Jets and another with the Cleveland Browns.
"We've got to put another ring on Drew's finger," Davis said that day in March after signing a three-year deal reportedly worth $24 million. "I think they are on the cusp of something special, and I wanted to come in and be a part of that."
Davis, of course, was referring to Drew Brees. And Davis, just 12 games into his tenure as a Saint, has done his part to make this a special season, adding a rock-solid piece to a defense that is no longer just an afterthought.
Davis will play his 13th game in his No. 56 black and gold jersey on Sunday when the Saints (10-2) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) at noon Sunday in Raymond James Stadium.
He'll look to add to his team-high 87 tackles (59 solo, 28 assists).
"Hell of a player, true leader," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "His stats speak for themselves. You turn the tape on and he's going at a different speed than a lot of people. His impact on this defense has been immeasurable."
Davis' nine tackles for loss rank third on the team behind Jordan and Rankins. When he's not in the opponent's backfield, he's chasing down running backs or covering tight ends in pass coverage. His athleticism, versatility and knowledge of the game allows him to line up at any of the linebacker positions.
"I'm just trying to disrupt the game plan," Davis said. "As a linebacker, that's the way you try to play the game."
A devout Christian, he celebrates his big plays by striking his "Jesus on the cross" pose.
"I just try to be an imitator of Christ in everything I do," Davis said.
It's why helping others — whether it be leading in causes for social justice reform or charity work with kids — is as important to Davis as helping the Saints defense.
But Davis is anything but compassionate once he gets between the lines.
“Demario really brings a physicality to our football team," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "That was one of the things that we liked about him when we watched him. He's a sideline-to-sideline player. He plays the game violently and aggressively, and he finds his way to get to the football and get the ball carrier down.
"I just think his speed and athleticism, along with the violence and physicality that he plays with, has been really good for us and (has) helped us out a lot.”
But even more important than his numbers is his presence off the field. Davis' teammates saw his leadership skills as soon as he arrived. They watched the 6-foot-2, 248-pound Davis run sprints with defensive backs. They saw him stand up and give speeches in team meetings.
It's why, despite being a newcomer, he was voted one of the team's captains.
"That speaks volumes," tight end Ben Watson said. "He sets the tone with his intensity in practice. When you go to a new team — and I've done it several times — one of the hardest things to do is find your niche and to gain respect. You're always in this race to meet expectations of the people who wanted you, earn respect in the locker room and thirdly you want to do your job. From Day 1, he's been that guy."
Davis says the key to gaining that trust is building relationships. It's why he's been a captain on all three NFL teams he's played with.
"You show other people respect, they'll show you respect," Davis said. "But you've got to be willing to get to know guys outside of the locker room. You can't just get to know them as football players. You have to know who they are as people. The most important thing in the locker room is to have the respect of your teammates. It's not about what they say about you, but it's about having respect for the guys you go to battle with. That's the highest honor you can receive."
Statistically, Davis had his best season a year ago with the Jets when he recorded career highs in tackles (135) and sacks (five). His 97 solo tackles led the NFL.
But he says this may be his best season.
"I definitely see a lot of growth in my game from last year to this year," Davis said. "My production (last year) may seem higher, but here the defense is on the field less. So the efficiency is probably higher."
It helps, of course, that he's playing on a winning team in a city just three hours away from his hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.
Davis has played on just one team that finished with a winning record (the 2015 Jets went 10-6). He has never been in the playoffs. And he has never won a division title. His first division title could come with a victory Sunday. That would lead to a postgame celebration in a locker room he has helped lead.
"He's a great fit for this locker room," safety Kurt Coleman said. "He's not so much the outspoken guy all the time. But the great thing about him is that when something needs to be said, he's going to say it. But he does a lot of talking with his play."
Twelve games in, Davis has helped get Brees closer to that second ring. He has been a part of a season that so far has been quite special.
Has it been everything he thought it would be?
"Even more," he said.