Malik Davis has been running since before he can remember, but his foot didn’t quite feel right after a second quarter run against Colorado State.
“When I went down, I felt something funny,” the redshirt sophomore said, “but I didn’t know what it was until I went to the sideline.”
Soon, Davis was in a walking boot, and an X-ray would confirm his worst fear: Davis’ foot was broken. After months of recovery and recuperation, his season was over.
“I’d probably say that first night (was the toughest). I was just up thinking about it. You know, you can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. That’s not going to do anything,” Davis said. “The main thing I just kept in my head was just control what I can control, work hard, be happy, get back out there.”
Sidelined once again by a season-ending injury, Davis understood what it would take to return to the field.
“Just waking up early, getting up early. Treatment three times a day, rehab,” Davis said of the broken foot that cut short his second season in Gainesville, “working out like two or three times a day.”
It was a grueling process, but it beat the alternative: not returning to the field.
Now healthy and “100 percent” as Florida toils away in spring camp, Davis is counting his blessings.
“I feel like a lot of people take the game for granted. When you’re out with an injury and you’re hurt, it just makes you love the game even more,” he said.
A former three-star prospect, Davis emerged from a loaded UF backfield in 2017 to become a bright spot in Jim McElwain’s final season at Florida. But after seven games, including two starts, Davis would suffer a nearly catastrophic knee injury in the final week of October. The injury kept Davis sidelined this time last year, preventing new coach Dan Mullen from witnessing the agility and athleticism in spring camp that had many labeling Davis a steal on the recruiting trail.
Now, with four running backs battling for playing time in UF’s backfield, and a fifth set to join in the summer in signee Nay’quan Wright, Davis is simply focused on his health rather than the depth chart.
For someone coming off two devastating injuries, it’s hard for Davis to focus on much else.
“I’ve been waiting so long to finally be able to come out and play football again,” Davis said. “Like I said before, you take the game for granted. So, once you get hurt and you sit back and you see everyone still playing, you’re eager to get back out there. And when you get back, you wanna make sure you (stay healthy because before, maybe you weren’t doing everything you could to prevent from getting hurt. But now, just taking care of my body and things like that, that’s just No. 1 on the list.”
However, although he feels in tip-top shape from a physicality standpoint, Davis does admit he’s still shaking off some rust after playing in just nine games over the past two seasons — an unfamiliar experience for the Tampa native who was seemingly a beacon of health at Jesuit High.
“In high school, maybe I missed two games with like a sprained ankle or something,” Davis said. “Some people may say no, I don’t look rusty, but to me I feel a little rusty. But I’m getting back in the groove. When I sit back and watch film with a teammate, they’ll be like ‘Oh, you look good’, but to myself I’ll be thinking ‘I could have did this, I could have did that’, but that’s just me thinking in my head.
“That’s one thing you can’t do, is play scared.”
With expectations high for Davis in his third season in Gainesville, he’ll be expected to take his own advice and push those limits sooner rather than later for Florida’s backfield to be at its best in 2019.
“He looks like he’s playing confidently. I try to keep an eye on him and just see. He looks very confident. It’s going to be important for him to pick it up, because he missed a good deal of reps last year,” Mullen said. “Even though (he’s) on the team, being in meetings, understand and learning it, not physically — there’s a difference between learning it in the classroom and being able to apply it on the field. But so far, I think he’s done a pretty good job of applying that. As we continue to go, I’d like to see the confidence build in his application of the offense.”
What: UF football practice open to the public
When: 9:45 a.m.–12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanders Practice Fields on UF campus. Bleachers will be set up on the east side along the Indoor Practice Facility. Fans can congregate on the east and south sides to watch practice.