Khalil and Carlos Davis don’t have a lot of info on the first year of their life. In fact, they really don’t know much at all.
They don’t know their parents’ names, what they did for a living or how they met. They don’t know all of their biological siblings, aunts or uncles. They don’t even go by the names they were given at birth — they might not even remember what they are.
If you asked the 23-year-old, 300-pound, NFL-bound twins to describe their family, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t even mention those they share blood with. Instead, they’d tell you about those in their lives whose bonds they share that go beyond the blood running through them.
Tracy and Carl Davis didn’t know they always wanted to adopt kids. Well, they sort of did, but they didn’t know the other wanted to until a conversation brought the topic up.
“We both decided early in our marriage that we thought about adopting,” Carl said. “I didn’t know she ever thought about it, and she probably didn’t know I had thought about it, as well. Later on, we kind of brought it up in conversation, and we realized we were on the same page about it.”
Tracy and Carl had already raised two daughters of their own, Monique and Cymone. While they both were done having children, they still had the desire to continue to be parents.
As the Davises two daughters grew to ages six and 10, Tracy and Carl decided the time was right to get into an adoption program. After signing up, they took classes that educated them on how parenting an adopted child would have its unique approaches and challenges, even for parents who had previously had children of their own.
“After we completed all our adoption class, our caseworker called us and said she had a newborn baby girl at the hospital, and the mother had already signed her up for adoption,” Tracy said. “I said, ‘Okay, let me call my husband.’ So I called him and told him and he told me, ‘Tracy, I already have two daughters.’”.
But the Davises didn’t have to wait too long to be blessed with another call — the one that would change their lives forever.
“Not too long after that our caseworker called us again and told us about a baby boy,” Tracy said. “I was all excited and thought, ‘Oh, my husband is going to be excited about this.’ But then she told me there was a catch. I said to her, ‘A catch?’ She told me that there were two baby boys who had been born together, not just one. I said to her, ‘What?! Two?!’ I wasn’t sure if we were ready for two.”
The caseworker explained they had found some parents who would take one of the boys, but not both. However, they wanted to keep them together since they were twins born just hours apart. Tracy understood that, and she agreed that was the right thing to do.
Anytime you double the number of things you have to care for, it’s a big decision. It takes planning, preparation, structure, but most of all, a willing heart.
From the moment Tracy told Carl they were going to have not one but two boys, even though it wasn’t what they originally had in mind, their hearts were big enough for the both of them.
“She told me that exact thing, that there was a 9-month-old boy, but there were two of them,” Carl said. “And she explained why they wanted to keep them together.”
“When I told him, then he started laughing and smiling once I told him that,” Tracy said. “I knew what that meant. I knew that meant we were going to get both of them.”
Though they weren’t as big as they are now, Khalil and Carlos were still dominant when they first started playing football at a young age in Blue Springs, Missouri.
“We started getting into football in second grade,” Carlos said. “We went right into tackle football. We always played up. So we were always the youngest players on any team.”
The Davis brothers actually first got into sports when Tracy and Carl signed them up for swimming. Then after swimming, they got them involved in track, citing how they were always trying to race other kids and even each other — why not put a little structure and some recognition to it?
“They competed in swimming when they were young, and they were pretty good,” Carl said. “They’d come home with first and second place medals every week.”
From the stories told it seemed like neither Tracy or Carl could slow either Khalil or Carlos down when it came to being active. The boys were good at whatever it was they were signed up for made it easier too.
Soon after they rose the recess ranks of swimming and track, one of their friends tried to get them to add a third sport to their schedule.
“I knew track and football; went hand-in-hand, so we went to football practice, and you could tell that they were good,” Carl said.
As we now know both of the boys are not only Division I but NFL-bound athletes, you figure they probably stood out at a young age.
By Carl’s telling of the tale, “stood out” is putting it lightly.
“Khalil just kept beating these offensive tackles and fullbacks, and this was on their first day,” Carl said. “I was like, ‘Man, he’s killing this kid on the line.’ He was beating the tackle and the fullback on every play. I’d just tell them what to do and they’d do it. For Khalil, no one could block him. For Carlos, I told him what to do and the next thing you know he’s 10-15 years down the field pushing back the guy he’s blocking.”
The boys continued to play football up until high school. Carlos was the one who made it to the varsity level first. Khalil didn’t become a starter until his final year of varsity football, but he was racking up sacks for years before that.
As you might expect from their diverse sports background, the Davis brothers didn’t play just one position. In fact, they didn’t even play just one side of the ball.
“Khalil played more defensive end and tight end and I played as a true offensive tackle,” Carlos said. “So we would line up right next to each other … and don’t let Khalil fool you, either. He was a blocking tight end, but he would be out there running routes, too.”
In today’s age, one child going through the high-level football recruiting process can almost be too much to handle. Now imagine doing it with two at the same time. That was life for four years at the Davis’ household.
Carl never played college football. He played in high school, but that’s where his time on the gridiron stopped. His brother, however, played high school ball and then in college at the University of Nebraska. As the boys grew into their size and their talents, Carl leaned on his brother to help guide them through improvement as well as some of the opportunities they could have through football.
During their freshman year of high school, the Davis brothers attended a football camp at Nebraska. While they were there, they were told that Divison I offers would be coming for both of their boys within the next few years.
“You think your kids are good at sports, but you never know how good, you know?” Carl said. “When I heard that it was like, ‘Wow, okay, they can really do this.’”
They weren’t offered right there at that initial camp, but the wait wasn’t long. After their sophomore season of high school football, they both received offers from the University of Missouri.
Then the flood gates opened.
“Recruiting was hard for us at first,” Khalil said. “Carlos started playing varsity before me, so no one really knew about me. So he started to get offers first. Then once I got up there and started making plays, getting offers, it became known that we wanted to play college football together.”
When it came to the final decision of where they would play ball, as is often the case for many recruits, it was more than just the football programs. For one, they wanted to stay relatively close to their home in Blue Springs.
But there was another factor in their decision, one that they were set on: They didn’t want to give up track.
Both of them started as runners and sprinters, competing in the 400-, 200- and 100-meter dashes. At first, it was a great way for them to keep their speed and stay in shape as they grew. But when they grew, they did so in more than one way, and that forced the boys to give up on the sprinting side of things and pick up another event: throwing discus.
“Track always helped us with our hips and our football,” Carlos said. “People don’t realize how mental of a sport track is. It’s very detailed. That’s a lot of pressure and technique, just like football. When you’re in that ring, everything is on you. But when you know the details, you do your best.”
The Davises spent so much time on their craft and had so much enjoyment with the sport of track that they weren’t ready to give it up. Not even when considering all the work it would take to be a Divison I athlete in two sports. There were a handful of schools that presented them with the opportunity to do both, but in the end, their recruitment journey ended right where it began as the two signed to Nebraska for both football and track.
Looking back, it’s hard to argue the boys made anything less than the right decision.
In track, both Khalil and Carlos threw for all four years. They also made it to regions in all four years. Both have medaled in discus events; Carlos was second-team all American, and Khalil was third-team.
In football, both brothers redshirted their first seasons, but after that were key contributors every season. They played in nearly every game for their four years of eligibility and started over 30 games between the two. Both were honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2018, and Khalil was named Nebraska Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2018 and 2019.
After lettering all four years in both football and track, Khalil and Carlos became the first Huskers in more than 50 years to be eight-time letterwinners, and just the ninth and 10th eight-time letterwinners in Nebraska Athletics history.
All while being close enough so their family could come to see their accomplishments — accomplishing their goals together.
As you would expect with any sibling relationship that is close in age, Khalil and Carlos are very competitive, especially with one another. If you asked who was the more competitive between the two, they’d both probably say they couldn’t choose, but in reality, the very competitiveness of the question would make each of them want to say it’s themself.
Tracy and Carl echoed that statement — that both were not only equally competitive but also competitive about everything.
“One time they were arguing about football,” Carl said. “Khalil didn’t start until his senior year, but he had more sacks. So Carlos would say to Khalil, ‘You start in a football game and then you can come talk to me.’ Then Khalil would come back and say, ‘At least I have more sacks.’ And then Carlos would say, ‘At least I went to nationals in track.’ And then Khalil would say, ‘But I have a better throw than you.’
But the competitiveness doesn’t stop at sports. For these brothers, it’s everywhere.
“Even this past Christmas, they were arguing about Uno,” Tracy said.
“It was on Christmas Eve,” Carl said. “We were playing Uno. We’re sitting around playing Uno, and they just started getting competitive about who had the better score. And the worst part was they were just sitting next to each other.”
“The oddest thing we’re competitive about is probably food,” Carlos said. “When we were growing up, neither of us would let our parents get the other more food. So if he had four chicken thighs, then I had to have four chicken thighs.”
“This is a true story,” Khalil said. “There’s this 18 pack of wings, but sometimes they’d put one extra or one less in there. And if it was an odd number, then we’d have to go back and get another one because neither of us would have less food than the other.”
At the core of pre-adolescence and even into the adolescent age, every young child yearns for one thing: to be wanted. They want to feel cared for. They want to feel included. They want to feel loved.
They want to feel like they belong.
One of the most impactful moments in an adoptive family’s lives is the very first time the parents tell their child or children that they are adopted — a moment that has the potential to shake that feeling of belonging for children.
“For me it was difficult,” Tracy said. “But the classes we took recommended that we tell them, at an early age. It recommended getting kid books so they would understand what it is.”
You never truly know how the adopted child is going to react. The questions and general inquiries that follow are one thing, but the feelings that could come after — something that could take months or years — is what likely makes telling such news hard for parents to have to do.
You never want such news to make any child feel like they aren’t really part of the family.
“When they first asked, we were upstairs watching TV,” Carl said. “I remember one of them asked us, ‘How were we when we were in your stomach? How were we acting?’ They were about seven or eight, at the time. So then to answer that, their mother asked them if they knew what adoption was. They said that they knew one kid in their class that was adopted.”
Knowing what it was and accepting something like that as their own identity are two different things. But Tracy and Carl were as prepared for this talk as they could be.
“Tracy started explaining to the boys what adoption was,” Carl said. “She broke it down pretty good. And then after about 10-15 minutes of explaining what adoption is, both of them were like, ‘Okay, can we have dessert now?’ I remember they just asked if they could have ice cream for dessert.”
Khalil and Carlos have never questioned their place in the Davis family. They quite literally don’t know any better. As far back as they can remember, Tracy, Carl, their children and their relatives have been the only family Khalil and Carlos have ever known.
To them, that means more than who they’re biologically related to.
For as talented, hard working and competitive as the Davis brothers are, they’re lucky. Not every child born of unfortunate situations like the ones they were born into gets the chance to have a stable upbringing. But Tracy and Carl made sure these boys knew what love was from the moment they brought them home. Since then, that’s where their identity truly lies: in love.
“What we just want is for other kids that might be in Khalil and Carlos’ situation to know that you can still make a difference,” Tracy said. “Those are our kids. No one in the family looks at them as being adopted. To us, they’re ours.”
“We have a very diverse family background, Carlos said. “Our family is very unique. It’s not built off blood, but families don’t have to be blood.”
If you were to ask the Davis brothers of their identity, it would be a bit of a loaded question. There’s a lot of things they are, but there are also things they aren’t — not anymore.
As for what they are, they are twins. They are fishermen. They are competitive eaters. They are University of Nebraska alumni. They are track stars and football stars.
They are Khalil and Carlos Davis.
Maybe not by blood, but by something that means even more.