Kemper Amick gets ticked off when he hears criticism of Mike Davis. The Columbia High football coach rushes to defend his former player, but Amick stops himself from saying what he really thinks.
“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” Amick said with a laugh.
This has not been the final season that Davis, USC’s senior tailback, had hoped for. Some would call it a lost season.
Davis entered as the featured back, after sharing the workload during his first three seasons. He was going to be a key part of the offense.
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Instead, the running game ground to a halt. The Gamecocks have the worst rushing attack in the SEC, and their 98.9 yards-per-game average ranks 108th of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Instead of rushing for 1,000 yards, Davis enters Saturday’s game at Clemson with less than half that. He ran for 181 yards in USC’s first two games, but his best single-game total since was 73. Five times he failed to rush for 50 yards.
In addition, his goal-line fumble against Georgia cost USC a chance to tie the game. His yards-per-carry average, which was better than 4.0 in each of the previous three seasons, is 3.5.
Davis even had a bad year off the field. He was suspended for one game (against Alabama-Birmingham) for missing class the previous academic year. And he was benched for the start of the opener against N.C. State after sources said he broke into a refrigerator in the weight room.
Still, Davis declines to fire back at critics. When asked about a disappointing season, he keeps positive.
“I got to spend time with my teammates,” Davis said. “I mean, it didn’t go (as well) statistically, but I made more friends. That’s all right with me.”
It is left to Amick to fight for his former player. Amick watches plenty of Gamecock football, especially with two Columbia High players on the way to USC, but he spends most of the time focused on Davis.
Amick thinks Davis is more banged-up than he has let on. He thinks the pounding has taken a toll.
“He’s had a lot of situations where there hasn’t been anywhere to run,” Amick said. “When you run into a wall, and when you’re doing it on a constant basis in the SEC, it’s gonna take a toll on you.”
Davis’ position coach at USC, Robert Gillespie, isn’t certain he agrees with that assessment.
“Whether running into a wall or he can’t get around the wall, it’s all a part of the game,” Gillespie said. “We don’t make excuses as a group, and, hopefully, that’s not something he would say. You’ve gotta take opportunities you can get, and some plays are there, and some plays or not.”
Gillespie believes Davis has done plenty of good at USC. He would rather reflect on those successes, such as Davis’ freshman season, when he was thrown into a starting role right away.
He finished as the team’s leading rusher. Rather than breaking down under the pressure of a long season, he improved at the end, rushing for more than 100 yards against Clemson and in the bowl game.
“We’re talking about a kid who easily could’ve been a junior now if he had redshirted,” Gillespie said. “But he was a guy that we needed to come in and play early. He was unselfish and did those things.”
As it is, Davis will end his career ranked in the program’s top 10 for rushing touchdowns, and he is on pace to graduate on time.
And, Gillespie points out, there is still time to finish on a high note.
“I told him, he has two more chapters left,” Gillespie said. “We are fortunate that this Saturday is a big stage, and this is one that could right a lot of wrongs.”
Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.