Coming off strong preseason camp, healthy Davis set to roll for Gators

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Florida running back Malik Davis (20) performs a drill with other running backs at practice. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Over the course of his two-plus years at Florida, Malik Davis has gone from rising star to forgotten back.

That’s what can happen when you basically disappear for the better part of two seasons due to injuries. When you’re not out there, running the ball and making plays, people forget.

For those who may have forgotten Davis and are now overlooking him, he has a message: he’s still here, 100-percent healthy again and ready to pick up where he left off before a knee injury ended his freshman season in 2017, just when it looked like he was emerging as the Gators best and most elusive back.

“I feel like, if they did (forget about me), I will remind them,” Davis said Thursday.

Davis is healthy again, ready to roll, ready to run, ready to get back on the field and do what he does.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “When you’re out, you kind of see how much you really love the game. I’m really happy to be back out there.”

It was his love of the game that helped him overcome his long run of frustration and re-emerge in preseason camp coming off the two season-ending injuries — a torn ACL in 2017 and a fractured foot that sidelined him early last season.

“It was pretty tough,” Davis said. “Just mentally, I think that was the biggest thing and just staying focused and remembering why I love to play the game and why I love doing what I’m doing. That’s what kept me pushing and driving me forward.”

Davis said he started feeling 100 percent again in the final week of spring practice. Since then, he’s spent more time with Nick Savage and the strength and conditioning staff and has made it through preseason camp with nary a nick.

Now, he’s good to go mentally and physically, and ready to have the ball back in his hands when the Gators open the season against Miami a week from Saturday.

If he makes a big play or breaks off a long run, maybe it will surprise. That won’t be the case for anyone standing on the Florida sideline or sitting in the coaches’ booth in the press box.

“Not in my book,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “He’s healthy again. We’re excited about that. He’s got the same ability as (Lamical) Perine. He’s got great hands. He can play out in space, and he can beat you inside. He’s a quality back.

“He’s gotten a lot smarter, and he’s playing much faster and he’s playing better. That’s the key for him. The smarter he is, the better player he’ll be.  He’s playing without thinking, so he’s playing very fast right now. I like that.

“I’m excited about his progress. His body is stronger. He’s in great shape. I’m excited to see what he does as we enter the season.”

In camp, Davis has been in a tight battle with sophomore Dameon Pierce for the backup role behind Perine, the senior starter. Regardless who is first off the bench, all four running backs — Perine, Davis, Pierce and redshirt freshman Iverson Clement — are expected to get carries in the opener and throughout the season.

“That’s a good competition (between Davis and Pierce), and it’s good competition between all our backs,” Knox said. “We’ve got a very talented group, very skillful group, and they all can make plays. It’s very competitive.

“You get a little more power with Pierce. You get a little more elusiveness with Malik. They both have that burst that they can hit the home run at any time.”

Davis is back in the playing lineup, looking to hit some home runs this season. To stay in the running back rotation, he’s going to do what he has been unable to do in his first two seasons — stay healthy.

That’s been on his mind throughout the offseason and preseason camp.

“One thing I look at is taking care of my body,” he said. “Even though when I feel better and nothing is wrong with me, still getting treatment, still just doing everything I can to prevent any type of pain or injury that could happen.

“What I was focused on this camp was just making sure (I took care of myself). I know you can’t prevent everything from happening, but prevent what I can.”

Davis said he will take to the field this season with no trepidation about possibly getting hurt again.

“I don’t even think about it,” he said. “I know how much work I’ve put in. When I’m out there I feel comfortable. I just want to make sure I’m able to help the team out and stay healthy. I’m very excited.”

14 COMMENTS

    • Same. I don’t know who’s put it in his head that we’ve forgotten about him, probably Robbie, but nobody’s forgotten about him. I’m honestly expecting him to challenge Perine for reps throughout the season. I think Perine will keep the starter designation but that may have as much to do with respect for the senior as anything else. Davis IS good.

      Also, who knows, everything happens for a reason. His broken foot may have given him time to thoroughly rehab his ACL.

  1. I hope he stays healthy and has a great year. He’s certainly had to be patient and work his way back. I LOVE this group of running backs. Along with the WR’s, I think this offense has the potential to be very explosive. …….wait Rog, temper your enthusiasm …….. 🙂

  2. Maybe youngsters don’t remember Malik, but long time Gator fans hungry for a potent offense easily recall Davis’s flashes of brilliance prior to his unfortunate injuries. While injuries are arguably the most disappointing thing about sports, returning from them can be equally, if not more, inspiring. I am exciting for him, too. Go Gators!

    • I second that. With Perine, Davis and Pierce I think we have a stable of backs on par with any SEC team. OMG, game day is almost here. I still think OL play is the key to success this season. The line doesn’t need to be spectacular, just solid and we will have a great year. Go Gators!

      • I third that, buddy, and totally concur — with great conviction — your comment on the stable of running backs we’ve assembled. That’s a championship backfield, unheralded as it may be, if there ever was one. With a “just” SEC-Average OL — good grief, this is Florida after all and we can at least do that — Perine and Davis can slice and dice, and Pierce can come in and blast that line like a Mack truck. If we do go to an uptempo offense, Franks can do the same on the ground with his size and new found willingness to run — and I haven’t even gotten to Jones yet. Now again, the hurry up may also work to Frank’s advantage as well in as much as he’ll have less time to become indecisive before he releases, assuming (a) that our equally fine receivers can open quickly and (b) that plays don’t string out after the ball is snapped regardless of the uptempo. And I haven’t even gotten to Jones yet. By the way, did I mention that I haven’t even gotten to Jones yet?

    • To find this much talent in the Gator running back stable, you probably have to go back to 1982 when James Jones, Lorenzo Hampton, Neal Anderson, and John L. Williams were all getting carries. Each one was a first round draft pick (Jones-’83, Hampton-’85, Anderson & Williams-’86).

      • I honestly don’t know, and I think we won’t know until we see them in action. They have had to work against a pretty good D-Line going up against ours so the coaches ought to have a good idea about what they can and can’t do well. The skill positions can’t do their thing if the run and pass blocking is poor. I love that we have the talent we do at the skill positions, I just hope they get a chance to showcase it. It won’t be long now and we will have a better handle on it. GO GATORS!

  3. Unfortunately a common story with injuries and great potential. Davis is great when healthy but has been cursed by the injury bug. Last example of that was Alex Ansolonea looked like a Viking great athlete but his shoulders kept shattering like glass. Proving how good he could have been at UF with the Saints hopefully he can keep it up and Malik can show what a great Back he can be all season long.