It’s not enough. It’s never enough.
Rushing for 83 touchdowns, 7,025 yards — a Hillsborough County record — and averaging over eight yards a carry in high school? Not good enough. Being recognized as a three-star recruit who was the 26th-best running back in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite? Not good enough. Playing as a true freshman at the University of Florida? Still not good enough.
For UF freshman running back Malik Davis, there’s no satisfaction. There’s a need for more. And four games into his Florida career, it has shown.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder,” running backs coach JaJuan Seider said. “He still carries some of that stuff where he feels like he got looked over.”
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Looked over? A guy with scholarship offers from Louisville, Miami, Virginia Tech and Oregon, among others, looked over? How? It starts with that three-star rating.
He was named Hillsborough’s most outstanding football player. He played three years of varsity football on a team that went to the state Final Four his senior year and lost to eventual state champion American Heritage-Plantation. He shattered the county rushing record held by current Clemson starter Ray-Ray McCloud — himself a four-star recruit — by over 1,000 yards. He had enough size at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. Yet his own future teammate, who played his high school football about half an hour south in Clearwater, was rated higher than him. How dare they — whether they be coaches at places like Alabama and Clemson or recruiting evaluators — not give him more credit?
“Even getting here,” Seider added, “think about when that happened for him. He was like one of the late guys that they went on at the running back position. He carries that chip on his shoulder.”
But so far at Florida, even if he wasn’t his team’s first choice at the position, he has shown he belongs. The player from Clearwater, Adarius Lemons, has since been buried on the depth chart while Davis has sprinted through opposing defenses and up the running back hierarchy to be named a starter last weekend against Vanderbilt and sit atop the depth chart heading into No. 21 Florida’s homecoming scrum this Saturday against LSU.
“That kid’s fantastic,” offensive line coach Brad Davis said. “You could put me in there and he’d still probably get a yard or two.”
Malik Davis leads the Gators (3-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) in rushing after four games with 319 yards and is averaging over seven yards per carry. If he continues at his current pace, he will finish the regular season with 877 rushing yards. Emmitt Smith holds the Florida freshman rushing record with 1,341 in 1987, and with his never-satisfied outlook, Davis could have his sights set on that.
But that’s unlikely, according to Seider. He said Davis is focused on proving himself on each play individually. Especially after his first big run, which was also his first big miscue.
Facing Tennessee in UF’s second game of the season, Davis took a carry up the middle for what looked like a 74-yard touchdown. But a UT defender caught up with him and punched the ball out at the 2-yard line. Instead of solidifying a victory, Davis put it in jeopardy. Instead of proving people wrong, he invited doubt.
“When’s the last time you fumbled?” Seider asked when he got to the sideline.
“Tenth grade,” Davis answered.
“What did you do the next play?” Seider asked back.
“I came back and scored a long run,” Davis answered.
Since that run, Davis has established himself as a threat in UF’s backfield, where he splits carries with Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson. He has received the most carries with 43. No more fumbles. But Seider said the moment showed that Davis still has work to do to be elite.
“When was the last time you were caught from behind?” Seider asked after the fumble.
“I can’t remember,” Davis said.
“Welcome to the SEC,” Seider answered.