Shawn Davis emerging as leader in Florida’s secondary

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Florida defensive back Shawn Davis (31) celebrates after a tackle for loss Saturday against UT Martin at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

From his demeanor, to his hard-hitting style of play, Gators safety Shawn Davis appears to ooze confidence. 

Yet Davis, one of Florida’s bright spots on defense through two games this season, was anything but cocky after a rough start to his UF career. 

As a freshman, Davis played in nine games, albeit primarily on special teams. In coach Dan Mullen’s inaugural season at Florida, Davis would emerge as a key role player during UF’s final nine games, but a preseason injury kept him off the field for the first month of the season. 

At the end of the 2018 campaign, Davis had seemingly been passed on the depth chart in favor of Brad Stewart, and he once again appeared primed for a reserve role. 

But something clicked for Davis in those final nine games, and it’s been abundantly clear through Florida’s first two victories.

Towards the end of last year, I just want to say I got really comfortable with the game,” Davis said after Florida’s 45-0 win over UT-Martin on Saturday. “I feel like the confidence boost that came from that was, they saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself. It made me feel like ‘Oh, since they see it in me, I have to play to a higher level’.”

As Florida’s home opener commenced, Davis wasted little time in maintaining his form. On the UT-Martin’s first offensive play, the Miami native blew by the opposition’s protection and tackled Jaylon Moore for a five-yard loss. He would finish the game with a team-high six tackles for the Gators, in turn momentarily dissolving UF’s concerns at safety.

In true Florida fashion, Davis had set the standard for the Gators with the game’s first play. 

“It felt kind of good just to set the tone on the defense with the first play. Get everybody hyped up after the play, and then we’re just getting after it.”

Asked to point out a catalyst for his rebirth on the field, Davis pointed to his position coach, Gators safeties coordinator Ron English, as a primary factor behind his emergence this season. 

“He just bash in our head that he knows that we can be big-time players,” Davis said of English’s message, “so we’ve got to act like it and play like it all the time.”

It’s a mentality the Gators have worked to establish since Mullen arrived back in Gainesville nearly two years ago, and one that’s repeated often in various forms throughout the halls of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium: if you’re on Florida’s roster, consider yourself an elite playmaker regardless of age or stature. 

That message was on full display during Florida’s shutout Saturday, as the Gators played eight true freshmen on defense against the Skyhawks. As Davis noted, being prepared for early playing time is part of what the Gator Standard encompasses, yet it’s hardly a foregone conclusion considering the majority need an adjustment to the collegiate level. 

With his confidence restored, and the Gators in need of depth at the safety position, Davis is emerging as a leader in the secondary — a far cry from where he was less than a season ago. If Saturday is any indication, they’ll need Davis, and his tutelage. 

“It’s not that easy, but I feel you should be ready to play just by coming here. We’re DBU, so I feel you should be ready to come here and play in a big-time game,” Davis said. “I know that I’m getting older, so I just got to play at an older-guy level, knowing that young guys are looking at me.”