Mike Davis stood in front a gaggle of reporters with video and audio recorders Monday night and tried to hide his excitement about being listed as the starting running back for South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina on Thursday night at sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium. On more than one occasion, Davis couldn’t hold back a smile.
He is ready to take the reins of the Gamecocks’ running game and put his stamp on it, filling the big shoes left by Marcus Lattimore.
“I’m very excited about Thursday night and making my first start,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to it. No nerves. I will listen to some comedy, like Kevin Hart, on the bus and everything will be OK.”
Davis was in a three-way battle for the starting spot with redshirt sophomore Brandon Wilds and junior Shon Carson. Running backs coach Everette Sands announced last week that he thought Davis had done enough to earn the starting nod even though all three are expected to play.
“We’ll see all three but, right now, Mike is a little bit ahead, and he will be the starter in the first game,” Sands said last week. “But one thing those (other) guys know is they’re going to play. We need all three of them to be as successful as we need to be.”
The rotation is far from set but if Davis goes in and has things rolling, the USC coaches will be less likely to take him out. He’s fine with whatever he’s asked to play but he set personal goals before the season started.
“One of my personal goals is to start and try and score every game,” Davis said. “If I do that, it will help my team out.”
Davis gained 275 yards on 52 carries as a freshman when he maybe didn’t expect to contribute much with Lattimore, Kenny Miles and Wilds on the roster. But injuries put him in the lineup. Given a taste of what football is like on the SEC level, Davis set out to change his body in anticipation of a bigger role this season.
He gained nearly ten pounds of muscle and has gotten faster and quicker than he was a season ago.
“I’ve transformed my body a lot,” Davis said. “I took all my anger out on the weight room. That’s what happens when you work hard. It was important to do because we’re in the SEC. I’m going against some big and fast people, and I need to be able to take a lot of hits.”
Sands saw the transformation up-close, and he was impressed with the results.
“He got in the weight room, plain and simple,” Sands said. “You can look at him and tell. He looks like a college running back now. His arms are bigger and he’s added ten pounds of muscle, so I think all of that has helped with his confidence.”
Davis also committed to becoming a better pass protector. He admits he struggled in that area last season. He said it’s becoming a more natural part of his game.
“I had to earn the coaches’ trust in the scrimmages,” Davis said. “I worked on pass blocking the most this offseason. As far as running, I knew that was going to come easy.”
Lattimore left a year early for the NFL after suffering season-ending knee injuries in each of the past two seasons. Davis thought Lattimore would stay through his senior season, so he had to adjust his goals. Part of doing that was becoming a better all-around back.
“I didn’t think I would be battling for a starting position my second year,” Davis said. “Things happen for a reason, and I just had to be ready.”
Davis said he talked to Lattimore, who is in training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, recently but the two didn’t focus on football. Davis will seek the advice of his brother, former Clemson standout James Davis, on what to expect Thursday night.
“I talk to James every day,” Davis said. “I lean on my brother a lot. I wouldn’t say he’s a Carolina fan, but he supports me in anything that I do. He’s always there for me, and I know between now and the first game we will be talking a lot about what to expect.”