South Carolina tailback Mike Davis was the forgotten man at the end of last season.
This year Gamecock coaches plan to make Davis simply the man.
Forced to share carries with Daccus Turman his freshman year and with Cory Boyd the past two seasons, Davis enters his senior season with nobody standing between him and the top of the depth chart.
“Mike has waited his turn, so myself and the entire staff are going to give him the chance to be the guy. It’s his chance to go out with a bang,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. “He’s worked hard. He’s had a great offseason. So if he can stay healthy and do the right thing, like he’s been doing, it’s his to keep.”
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It is not as though Davis spent his first three seasons filling the Gatorade coolers.
The former Columbia High star led the Gamecocks in rushing as a freshman in 2005 when Boyd was suspended and enters his final year with 1,658 career yards, 18th on USC’s career rushing list.
If Davis matches his first-year rushing total of 666 yards, he will finish in the top 10 all-time among Gamecock backs.
With Boyd graduated and a number of younger tailbacks behind him, it appears Davis will get his shot as the featured back.
“If coach (Steve) Spurrier wants to give it to me, I’m going to take it,” Davis said.
The 5-foot-9, 207-pound Davis averaged 10 carries per game his first three seasons. In 36 games, he exceeded 20 carries just three times.
That is a light workload compared to what Davis experienced at Columbia High, where he started both ways and seldom left the field. Davis amassed 5,517 career rushing yards and 68 touchdowns at Columbia, surpassing the 2,000-yard mark in each of his past two seasons.
“We ran the power-I offense,” Davis said. “It’s a running back’s offense.”
Spurrier always has been known as more for his passing offenses, but the backs are not neglected. But when the Gamecocks decided to feature Boyd at the end of last season, Davis was the odd man out: He ran just 12 times over the final three games, including a single carry in the loss to Clemson.
Davis has been bothered for most of preseason camp by a left shoulder injury he sustained during a noncontact drill when he slipped and fell on the shoulder.
The Gamecocks have options behind Davis should the injury continue to linger.
Sophomore Brian Maddox, who had six carries last season, has played well in Davis’ absence this month. Maddox, who led the state in rushing with 1,750 yards as a senior at T.L. Hanna, believes he has shown enough in camp to merit more touches this season.
“He had a really good spring and he’s just built on to that and is taking advantage of the extra reps he’s been getting since Mike Davis has been injured,” he said.
Upperclassmen Bobby Wallace and Taylor Rank remain in the fold, although freshman Eric Baker improved his playing time prospects by rushing for 32 yards on 12 carries in Saturday’s scrimmage, leading all backs.
Baker signed with USC last year before heading to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy for one season after failing to qualify. Like Maddox, Baker also led his state in rushing after gaining 1,703 yards as a high school senior in Jacksonville, Fla.
Gillespie said Baker has benefited from enrolling in January and participating in spring drills, putting him ahead of fellow first-year back Kenny Miles.
“He’s a guy that knows the system,” Gillespie said. “He got here during the spring so if anyone of those (first-year) guys that sticks out a little bit more, it’d probably be Eric Baker.”
But barring injury or inconsistent performance, those other backs could play supporting roles to USC’s new leading man in the backfield.
Predictably, Davis — who usually keeps his guard up around the media — is saying little about the possibility of increased carries.
“I’m just going to come out and we’re going to see what happens.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.