Printed on: December 13, 2012
USU defensive back finds his way
By Lynn DeBruin
AP Sports Writer
LOGAN, Utah -- Three years ago, Will Davis was content to be playing flag football at Western Washington, gunning for an intramural championship. He had tuition money in hand, good buddies at his side and time to figure out life.
Now the charismatic 22-year-old has his sights set on the NFL after a record-setting senior season for No. 18 Utah State that culminates with Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Toledo (9-3).
"This is beyond my dreams," said Davis, part of a defense that helped the Aggies win the Western Athletic Conference title and a school-record 10 games.
Like the Aggies, who have won six straight, Davis is on a roll.
The 6-foot, 186-pound cornerback has had an interception in five straight games to earn first team All-WAC honors. He also has been invited to play in the Senior Bowl in January.
Not bad for a guy who has played only four years of organized football and found himself emailing practically every coach in the nation two years ago trying to secure a Division I scholarship.
When he finally signed on the dotted line for Utah State's Gary Andersen, the JC-transfer didn't exactly wow. He started last season as a backup and was in danger of being cut from the traveling squad.
"That kind of woke him up," said position coach Kendrick Shaver. "He started taking advantage of the reps he was getting in practice and letting his talent shine."
That he has done, and he shines in other ways, too.
Davis has 900-plus Twitter followers, and isn't shy about interacting with all. He's the same way off the field -- approachable and real. Shaver teasingly calls him a politician because he won't take a seat in meetings until he has shaken every teammate's hand and asked about their day.
"I love Willie Davis, the kid on the field, going around having a blast," Davis said. "But I'd rather be known as Will Davis. I don't want people to be shy around me. I'm not some big-time (athlete)."
But he has made some big-time plays, three in particular that affected the careers of opposing quarterbacks.
The first actually didn't help Utah State, as his deflection of a Riley Nelson pass still ended up in the hands of a secondary BYU receiver in last year's last-second loss to the Cougars. It helped solidify Nelson's job as BYU quarterback and hastened the transfer of once highly touted recruit Jake Heaps to Kansas.
In September, a blitzing Davis supplied the hit that would end the career of Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who retired after learning he would need a fourth shoulder operation.
Last month, it was Davis who halted Colby Cameron's NCAA-record streak of 444 consecutive passes without an interception when he picked off one in the end zone, helping the Aggies pull off the 48-41 upset victory over Louisiana Tech that propelled them into The Associated Press rankings for the first time since 1961.
"We ran that route five to six times in practice, so everything looked right," Davis said. "I went with my gut and pulled the trigger ... jumped the route."
Shaver said it's those instincts and ability to absorb information quickly that make Davis special.
"He blossomed when he was able to understand that people are going to catch a football on him and it's not the end of the world," Andersen said.
Davis should have known that already from his own upbringing.
His dad, now a pastor, was a good athlete in his own right but grew up in Los Angeles and has two bullet wounds as reminders of his early life in the gangs.
"He didn't want that for us, so he moved us to Washington, good old Spokane, and honestly I'm glad we made the move. Spokane raised me," Davis said.
As a senior, another event changed his life when he and his then-girlfriend found out they were going to be parents.
Davis began looking at the positives several months in, even picturing the little Jordan pink slippers he'd get when he found out their baby was a girl.
His daughter arrived on Aug. 3, 2008, but died later the same day because her rib cage never developed, and thus her lungs couldn't expand so she could breathe.
He'd get to hold her before she died, calling the moments he had with her "priceless."
He has a copy of her tiny hand print tattooed on his upper left arm, and remains friends with the mother and her family, whom he said will be at Saturday's bowl game in Boise.
It will be his final as an Aggie, other than the Senior Bowl, where he can only hope to follow in the footsteps of linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Wagner was a relative unknown going against players from big-time programs, but earned most valuable player honors for the North squad last year and now is a starting linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.
Andersen predicts Davis will be drafted in a fairly high round next spring, but like everyone else trying to make that jump, faces a tremendous challenge.
Davis' first challenge, though, will be a high-powered Toledo offense led by quarterback Terrance Owens. Toledo enters the game ranked 28th in the nation in total offense. Owens can throw deep and has a pair of talented receivers in Bernard Reedy (82 catches, 1,051 yards) and 6-foot-4 freshman Alonzo Russell (54 catches, 925 yards).
Davis' Twitter followers are asking him if he'll get another interception.
"There are high expectations, but that's what you want, " Davis said, shaking his head at the thought he almost settled for intramural flag football after Western Washington cut its Division II program. "You want that on you."