Jim Davis: Looking Forward
by Neal Williams
TSL Extra, Issue #3

One year down.

For defensive end Jim Davis, his freshman year as a Virginia Tech Hokie qualifies as a success to most everyone but himself. He became a central part of the Hokiesí defense and was a leading player in Techís 41-20 whipping of Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

Three to go.

It seems like forever, only it isnít. As good as he was this year, Davisí future is what has Hokie faithful most excited. Heís only just begun.

College football is a revolving door. Each year a senior class departs and takes with it Ė usually Ė a tremendous amount of experience and leadership. Cory Bird, Matt Lehr, Dave Kadela and Nick Sorensen are just some of the players the Hokies will miss in upcoming seasons.

As the seniors depart, the other classes move up and assume another place in the pecking order. Some advance quicker than others. For the Hokiesí rookie class, Davis is one of the players who has "leader" and "standout" stamped all over his 6-4 frame.

He had two sacks of Clemson quarterback Willie Simmons, on successive third-quarter plays, in the Gator Bowl. Those raised his sack total for the season to 5.5, though the two in the bowl wonít count in Techís official records.

"Seeing him coming in, he was like everyone else when they came in," Lehr said. "He was quiet, shy, didnít really know anybody. Toward the end of the year, he got better and better to where he was one of our top defensive ends.

"He came in with a lot of athletic ability and a lot of stuff he already knew. He still has a lot to accomplish. But the natural strength he came in with is unreal. Heís so strong. Itís surprising for a freshman."

Davis wouldnít agree with the strength part. But more on that later. Suffice it to say heís judging himself against the big picture, the finished product. As freshmen go, he definitely stood out.

"I would call my year mediocre," Davis said. "But it has definitely been a great experience. I think I proved some people wrong. That makes me feel pretty good. I know thereís so much room for improvement. I just canít wait for next year. Iím definitely looking forward to working with Coach (Mike) Gentry in the weight room."

Like many before him at Tech, Davis is another example of Techís ability to find recruits that others may not think are Division I ready.

Sure, the Hokies would love to stock their player larder with blue-chip prospects, and they work hard at doing that. But not every player brought in can be a "sure-fire star," and often the difference between the very good programs and the great programs is the quality of the recruit they find a notch below the sure things and top prospects.

Like Davis.

At Highland Springs High, Davis was barely recruited. Tech had some contact. So did East Carolina. And that was about all.

"To tell you the truth, I had no idea where I was going to be," Davis said. "Maybe college, maybe a junior college. The possibility of just working out of high school was there. I really had nothing to strive for coming out of high school.

"All I really wanted was just another shot. I knew I had it, knew all along I had the tools."

A military school wouldnít have been Davisí first choice. Many players go to Fork Union Military Academy, and others like it, to improve their academic standing and/or their ability on standardized tests. Davis was fine academically. He went for another reason Ė to improve as a player and prove himself.

And he did.

"Even there, some thought it was my last stop," Davis said. "My attitude was that, given the opportunity, I was going to take it to another level. I was going to show that the kid who was overlooked by many people had a chance to be a pretty good player.

"In high school, no one even looked at me as a good player. My coaches believed in me. My parents believed in me, maybe a couple of other players. I was always overshadowed, overlooked. I guess I didnít have the flair they were looking for. Fork Union gave me a chance to improve. I was still pretty young (Davis didnít turn 19 until Oct. 4, 2000). I definitely got my looks there. It was such a surprise. You never know how good you are, and the things I was starting to hear I had never heard before, except from my parents. It kind of made me work extra hard to be that much better."

Davisí list of suitors definitely grew, to include many big-name schools in the region such as Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. He remembered Tech, which had given him some notice in high school. He remember Tech assistant coach Jim Cavanaugh, who had kind words for him back when others didnít.

He decided to become a Hokie.

"I guess with a lot of the athletes they choose, they can just see it," Davis said. "Coach Cavanaugh was so genuine. He was kind of there from the year before and you remember things like that. It isnít always the money a program has, or the swagger. Itís how genuine the people and program are.

"Coach Cavanaugh just took a chance on a skinny tall kid who had decent strength. I guess he just knew I had a knack for football."

Davisí year at Fork Union gave him an advantage over most incoming freshmen. He was a year removed from high school, yet still considered a "true" freshman with the option to redshirt.

Being at Fork Union helped him in terms of strength and development. He doesnít think he could have played right out of Highland Springs. But being at Fork Union didnít do everything to prepare Davis, because postgraduate ball just doesnít compare to high-level Division I-A football.

That part of the education can only be completed on site.

"That prep year really did help me," Davis said. "Still, it is nothing like it is here. There is such a tremendous strength difference. The players are so much stronger, so much faster. Could I have done it coming out of high school? No way, no way.

"I seriously doubted I could have done it coming out of prep school. The first day you get here, you look around and everybody is just as big as you including the quarterbacks, the running backs, everybody. Guys are 22, 23 years old and I was 18. I was sitting there getting pushed everywhere. Then you realize these guys have put in tons and tons of work to get to where they are. Thatís what I have to do now."

Davis plans to put in as much time as it takes, and then some.

Heís 240 pounds, which is an OK weight for him. If he can, heíd like to get into the 250 range. If not, heíll get by at 240.

"I think I could carry 250 pretty well," he said. "My problem is Iím not strong enough. I hope to get as strong as possible and put on a little weight. But I donít think weight is going to be an issue. I just think strength would help.

"I want to work on my speed, also, and Coach Gentry can help me there, too. Iím pretty quick off the ball, but Iím not the fastest guy.

"Mainly, I want to make sure I develop that solid work ethic to where I really push myself to be the best I can be."

Davis is one of three freshmen regulars at defensive end, along with Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas. Lamar Cobb, the other end on the two-deep, is only a sophomore. Tackles Chad Beasley and David Pugh are juniors. The entire line returns intact.

Three years to play seems like such a long time, and it is in one sense. In another, it isnít. Lehr would advise the young players to make certain they take the time to enjoy what theyíre doing.

"You blink," he said, "and it is gone."

Davis doesnít want to project what his future might look like. Others see future All-Big East, possible All-America. He just sees a guy who wants to be a little stronger and faster by the opening of spring ball March 26, and then a little stronger and faster than that by the opening of the 2001 regular season.

"I donít think I can project," Davis said. "If I was to project what happened this year, I would have been wrong. Iíll just have to take it summer to summer, season to season and just hope for only good things."

 

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