Finding a Place, Creating a Legacy: Alvin Atkinson ’81 Pays It Forward

Football in action with Malik McDaniel with Davidson teammates

Malik McDaniel ’25 on the football field

Their graduation years are nearly a half-century apart, but the Davidson College experience will always connect Alvin Atkinson ’81 and Malik McDaniel ’25. The two have never met, yet the impact of Atkinson’s ongoing involvement plays a role in McDaniel’s everyday life as a scholar-athlete and community-minded leader.

Finding His Place

From a small town in southeast Georgia, Alvin Atkinson focused on football as his path to higher education. Interested coaches from Davidson persuaded him to take his first ride on an airplane to visit campus in 1977.

“The most impressive thing for me was that these coaches thought I qualified for Davidson, both because of football and because of academics,” he said. “I always had good grades, but I never saw that as my path to college before that moment. They also talked to me about the financial aid I could qualify for, and then it became a no-brainer.”

There were only seven Black freshmen on the football team, and by spring of Atkinson’s first year on campus, the majority had decided to leave. It was then that he had to make a choice. 

“I had to make a decision, and then it came to me,” he said. “If I wanted to get something out of Davidson, I had to put something into Davidson. I had to get involved.” 

Atkinson joined the Black Student Coalition and, in short order, was selected as the organization’s president. He worked hard in class, landing on a major in economics, and Davidson began to feel like the exact right choice. 

a black and white photo of a football team wearing uniforms and standing in front of a brick building

Atkison (#43) with the Davidson College Football Team

a group of young Black men and women

Atkinson (pictured far left in the suit and tie) with the Black Student Coalition

To Atkinson’s surprise, coaches started talking about the idea of him becoming a pro football prospect. 

“I never thought about that as an aspiration, but I asked God for a sign so I knew if I should consider it,” he said. “The week before my first game senior year, I tore my ACL — jumped into the air, landed and it was gone. While a lot of folks were devastated, I had my answer, and that led to acceptance.” 

After graduation, Atkinson took a job with Wachovia Bank in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the city he has called home for more than 40 years. At the time, the daughter of Wachovia’s president was a Davidson classmate of Atkinson’s, so he felt this was another sign that this was the right journey. 

Living only a short drive away, Atkinson would travel back to campus often, keeping a close connection to the college. Throughout the past four decades, Atkinson has been a loyal donor, specifically to the football program, and he has served in various volunteer roles, including class leadership positions and as president of the Alumni Association Board and member of the Board of Trustees.

After 20 years in the financial world, where Atkinson stayed involved with community programs on the side, he decided to jump fully into that world. He spent the next 20 years working for Winston-Salem State University, leading a program that works to change the trajectory for families in neighborhoods plagued by crime and violence. 

a middle aged Black man smiling while wearing a suit and tie

Davidson really prepared me for banking and for work in the community through a focus on leadership and service. I encounter other alums all the time, and they really reinforce my opinion of mankind. They aim to become their best selves and give of themselves. We are our brother’s keeper, and that’s something I learned in college and has remained a theme in my life. I was definitely meant to go to Davidson.

Alvin Atkinson ’81

Atkinson’s influence found its way home, too. His son, AJ, a lifelong UNC Tarheels fan, ultimately decided to follow in his dad’s Wildcat footsteps. He walked on to the men’s basketball team and graduated in 2012 with a degree in sociology.

Making It Count

Atkinson’s steadfast commitment to Davidson Football and the institution as a whole makes a difference for students every year. 

Exhibit A: Malik McDaniel ’25. 

Fast forward from 1977 to 2021, and another high school football athlete was trying to figure out the right next step. Memphis-native McDaniel talked to coaches from all over — Dayton, Harvard, Yale, Air Force, Harding University in Arkansas — but the most persistent coaches were from Davidson, and their persistence paid off. 

“I wasn’t able to come for a visit because of COVID, so my first time here was during the immersion program for incoming players,” he said. “I had never been on a college campus and hadn’t traveled much, so the whole experience was awesome. I was ecstatic.”

McDaniel understood that Davidson was a good school, but he didn’t realize just how good until he got into his first classes. 

“I coasted through high school and things were pretty easy, so I really had to make adjustments at Davidson,” he said. “When things are hard, you have to apply yourself in order to better yourself. It was difficult, but I picked myself up, and I have figured it out.” 

The football journey has come with highs and lows, too. He faced a torn ACL and torn meniscus his first season, followed by a strained MCL in the same knee sophomore year. Junior year, he dealt with a torn tendon, but he was able to play through that. At the moment, he’s injury-free outside of one finger giving him some trouble.

“The injuries actually helped me become a better teammate,” McDaniel said. “I guess I used to feel like I wanted personal accolades more than anything, but now I just want the team to succeed. My mindset is totally different.” 

The educational studies major and Bonner Scholar stays busy with classes and community involvement. He is a math tutor at Community School of Davidson (CSD) and spends a great deal of time as a member of Young Life, a religious organization where college leaders are placed at different schools. His placement is at CSD.

Post-Davidson, McDaniel is interested in maintaining his connections through Young Life, and he’s also considering teaching and coaching or attending business school with a focus in finance. 

“I’ve had access to a lot of great people who help students think through things,” he said. “That’s why I’m able to consider different options after Davidson. I love it here.”

Atkinson and McDaniel did not experience Davidson at the same time or in the same way, but their connections extend from sports (and injuries) to a deep personal commitment to serving others. Atkinson’s investment of time and resources makes opportunities possible for McDaniel and all students who call themselves Wildcats.


In February, we commemorate Black History Month and share stories about people who’ve made Davidson College a better, more diverse and equitable community.