David Saville Story Continues With His First-Ever Turkeys

Duncan Dobie | May 31, 2019

It’s hard to say whether hunting or college football comes first with David Saville, of Norcross. He’s carved out a unique life for himself in both areas, but not in the usual sense.

David, 29, was born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. Hunting has played an important role in his life, thanks to a terrific and supportive family. David’s dad, Bob, his two brothers, Carson and Brandon, and his mom, Diane, all have helped nurture David’s love of hunting and the outdoors.    

Being the middle brother, David started deer hunting and learning gun safety with his dad when he was 12. At age 22 in Dec. 2012, he shot an outstanding 140-class 10-pointer on the family farm in Madison County. A story about David and his impressive trophy buck ran in the November 2013 issue of GON and received quite a bit of positive feedback.

David has always had a passion for football, but not being able to play, he did the next best thing. During his five-year high school career, he blossomed as a dedicated varsity football equipment manager at Norcross High, a job he truly loved. He did such an outstanding job that he was twice named “Football Manager of the Year.”   

David Saville poses with his first turkeys ever—three Madison County birds killed with one shot during a hunt on March 31.

After high school, David enrolled in a special program at Clemson University in August 2011, known as ClemsonLIFE. The program is designed to teach life skills to students with intellectual disabilities. He graduated from ClemsonLIFE in 2015 and now lives independently in an apartment in Clemson with three other ClemsonLIFE graduates. During his first year at Clemson, it was only natural for David to seek his old job, that of being an equipment manager for the Clemson Football team. His warm smile and positive personality easily won-over the players and coaching staff alike. Shortly after beginning his new job, he told Head Coach Dabo Swinney, “We are going to beat Auburn in our first game and then we’ll be national champions, Coach!”

Coach Swinney loved hearing those words, and grabbing David, he said, “We need more of this!”

David’s team at Norcross High had earned many regional titles and became state championships in 2012 and 2013, and David saw no reason why Clemson wouldn’t do the same thing on the college level. In fact, he expected it. Little did Coach Swinney realize how prophetic David’s words would be.

“David has never wanted people to feel sorry for him because he has challenges,” Bob says. “Instead, we’ve always encouraged him to believe his life has purpose and meaning. He genuinely feels like part of his job is to help make those around him better people. Crazy as it may sound, his purpose at Clemson Football was to be there for his players and coaches and do everything he could to help them stay focused on what is important. David is a living testament to Coach Swinney’s primary goal of building strong character in each player, and laying the foundation for success in their lives during and after football. It seems to be working. Clemson seniors are 55-4 with four ACC Titles and two National Championships.”    

New Horizons

Back on the home front, David decided he wanted to join his dad and brothers in the turkey woods. After shooting his big buck in 2012, he hoped to duplicate his achievement, but so far no more trophy bucks have stepped into his sights. So he and his dad hit the woods in 2018 in search of a Madison County longbeard.

“David did a lot of practicing with my 12 gauge shotgun, which in hindsight proved to be too big for him,” Bob said. “On opening day of the 2018 season, we set up in a ground blind on the edge of a field. David was sitting in a chair and using a shooting stick for his gun. I called until about 9 a.m. with no results. Then, without warning, three longbeards showed up. I told David to get in position. He got the gun ready to shoot but never did pull the trigger. Finally the three gobblers walked away. David later said he never felt comfortable taking a shot because the gun felt too big. We practiced a lot after that, but he never could hit the target with that shotgun. A week or two later we set up in another field and called in two gobblers with two hens. David ended up taking a fairly long shot at one of the gobblers and missed.”

Bob knew he had to find a more suitable shotgun for David for the 2019 season. For Christmas 2018, he gave David a TriStar Viper G2 Youth Advantage Timber Semi-Auto 20-gauge chambered for 3-inch shells. He topped it with a TruGlo red dot sight that made it easy for David to put the red dot on the turkey. David was set. He managed to find time to come home from Clemson and practice with his new gun before the spring turkey opener on March 23.

A Georgia Grand Slam

Opening day in Madison County proved to be an exciting day.

“We set up on the ground in some brush on the edge of a field and heard several turkeys gobbling before daybreak,” Bob said. “Our good friend, Jeff Meehan, who had offered to call for David, called in two nice gobblers and three jakes that strutted up to the decoys about 35 yards away. David was sitting on the ground but never was able to get in the right position for a shot. Finally the group of gobblers walked away.”

“Why didn’t you shoot?” Jeff asked David. “I didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to miss,” David answered.

“That’s one thing about David,” Bob said. “If he doesn’t feel right about the shot, he won’t take it.”

The following week, on Sunday, March 31, Bob and David set up on the edge of the same field. This time they were back in a ground blind, so David would feel more comfortable. David’s brother, Carson, was hunting on the other side of the farm while his best friend, Clemson manager Camden Rowland, was not far away. Unlike opening day the week before, the turkeys weren’t gobbling.

About 7:30 a.m., David was dozing in his chair when a lone hen walked by the blind. Bob nudged David and whispered, “Get ready! Get ready!”

Three jakes suddenly appeared in front of the blind. David eased off the safety and got his sights on one of the birds. Bob was sitting in the left side of the blind where he could see the birds approaching, but the turkeys walked out of his field of view before David could shoot. Now it was totally up to David.

“Keep your sights on one of the turkeys,” Bob whispered.

While practicing, David had a tendency to shoot high, so Bob told him to aim a little low. Several seconds went by that seemed like hours. Just when Bob was wondering if this was going to be another “no shot” situation, a loud blast rocked the ground blind.

Bob told David to keep his sights on the bird until it stopped moving. Then he quickly leaned forward and looked out the window. Two gobblers lay dead out in front of the blind and a third was flapping its wings a few feet away. Although David had been aiming at one turkey as instructed by his dad, his load had connected with all three jakes. After the three birds were secure, David excitedly texted his mom while Bob texted Carson and Camden.

“Did you get one?” she texted back.

“No,” David answered. “

You didn’t shoot a gobbler?” she asked.

“No, I shot three!”

After Diane realized David was not joking, she said, “That’s amazing—I’m so proud of you!”

Carson showed up within a few minutes to see the three birds and celebrate with his brother. No one was surprised. Everyone in the family knew only David could pull off a stunt like that. After taking a few photos, everyone headed back to the cabin to share a big breakfast. Just as they were finishing up, David looked around the table and said, “Well, I guess my season is over now.”

Life In The Fast Lane 

During his eight-year odyssey at Clemson, David has become something of a rock star. Upon his first face-to-face meeting with head coach Dabo Swinney back in 2011, David unassumingly introduced himself and said, “Hi Coach! I’m gonna work for you and be your equipment manager.”

Coach Swinney was immediately taken with this young man’s determination and quiet manner. How could he say no?

Dabo Swinney had played wide receiver for Crimson Tide head coach Gene Stallings in the early ’90s when Coach Stallings won his first national championship for the University of Alabama. Coach Stallings had a son born with Down syndrome just like David. After graduating from Alabama in 1995, Dabo Swinney went to work for Coach Stallings as an assistant coach. He always had a special place in his heart for Coach Stallings’ son Johnny and spent time with him whenever he could. Sadly, Johnny died in 2008 at age 46. Now, his first meeting with David immediately brought back memories of his days at Alabama. Those cherished memories no doubt played a role in accepting David as part of the team.      

David quickly proved his worth by working hard and always doing his best. He was not merely given a spot on the team; he earned it in every way. He soon became a fixture and a valuable member of the team. His contagious smile and determination to do a good job inspired others to do their best, as well. He was everybody’s best friend. Within a few years, he was being hailed as the heart of the Clemson football team.

David has won numerous awards and been recognized over and over again for his role with the Clemson Football team. Over the last eight years he has traveled across the country to all of the Clemson Football play-offs and championship games. He was invited to the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s annual gala in February, where he received its American Hero Award. While there he rubbed elbows with the football elite including former players like Herschel Walker and Archie Manning. Over the past few years, he’s been featured in numerous ESPN college football-related “Game Day” videos. Google David Saville, and you can watch no less than a dozen video clips that have been made about his life and aired nationally. Through it all, he has remained plain old David, with one possible exception. He now owns two national championship rings for which he is exceedingly proud. He’s also very proud to be part of one of the top teams in college football.

Just before the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019, where the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3, David received national recognition when Coach Swinney presented him with two tickets to the game. David suddenly had all kinds of new “best friends,” but he decided to take his brother Brandon to the game.

At halftime, David and Brandon were invited to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suite at Mercedes Benz Stadium, where they rubbed shoulders with a number of famous athletes and visited with the Commissioner. Goodell later sent an autographed football to David with the inscription, “David, you are my hero.”

There is no question the hand of the Lord has been on David. In recent years he has become a sought-after speaker with a number of speaking engagements around the country. He inspires audiences wherever he goes. When I interviewed David for a story in GON after he took his trophy 10-pointer back in 2012, I asked him about his disability. He responded with a quote from Dabo Swinney saying, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” This quote is now David’s signature ending to every speech.

David truly believes he’s been fortunate over the years to have received amazing support from his friends, family and football teams. But his attitude and love for his fellow man is the real catalyst that has taken him to such lofty heights. Whether it’s the Super Bowl in Atlanta, the college championship game between Alabama and Clemson in California, or a perfect turkey hunt on his family farm, it’s all in a day’s work for David.

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