Malik Davis doesn’t want to discuss the knee injury that cut short his freshman season, but it’s the elephant in the room. Maybe there’s a good reason why it’s a topic Davis prefers to avoid: he wasn’t expected to recover as quickly as he has, and everyone wants to know how.
Upon injuring his knee Oct. 29 in the first quarter of Florida’s 42-7 loss to Georgia, Davis said he immediately knew something had gone horribly wrong.
“It was just like a catch and my knee just, just a funny way I landed,” Davis said. “I’ve sprained my knee before. It just felt different. I knew it was something wrong. I didn’t know right away. I actually ran off the field. Then when I got on the sidelines, it started swelling up a little bit.”
While the extent of Davis’ injury has never been fully confirmed — initial reports speculated Davis had suffered significant injuries to both his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments — the season-ending injury devastated him both mentally and physically. But Davis credited those who remained in his corner through the ups and downs with helping him quickly overcome the mental anguish, allowing him to focus on preparing for a comeback.
“It was hard. It was really hard. But like I said, I had a big support system,” Davis said. “They tried to keep me positive, so that’s what I did. I stayed positive.”
Davis is wearing a knee brace in preseason camp, where, despite being cleared to return in June, he’s just beginning to feel like his old self again.
Any athlete who has suffered a major injury can likely concur that returning to the field can be tough from a mental aspect, but Davis said he experienced anxiety rather than nervous feelings.
“Right when camp started, when I first got out there (did I feel 100 percent),” Davis said. “A lot of people say, ‘Are you nervous?’ It’s just anxious. Just ready to do it. I wasn’t nervous. I was ready to get out there and make those cuts, big runs.”
Before the injury, Davis rushed for 526 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. UF coach Dan Mullen praised Davis for his rehab.
“I know he’s been training really hard and working really hard,” Mullen said of the 5-foot-11, 195-pound sophomore. “He’s done a good job. He’s got some talent. He’s got some burst. He can play with power. For a guy that might not look like you’re big, bruising back, can play with power and has speed.”
Davis is just another piece in Florida’s backfield, which could feature more than five running backs in 2018 as UF looks to revive an offense that has been dormant for about nine years yet has found ways to produce in the run game.
“It’s gonna be crazy. It’s like, our backfield is amazing. Our coach (Greg Knox), we have a really good coach. He’s teaching us a lot,” Davis said. “We’ve got a really good understanding of the game this year. We’ll be able to make runs we weren’t able to make last year and make better reads.”
Davis isn’t focused on how the carries are divided or who starts in the backfield. For someone who many prematurely ruled out for the entirety of 2018, Davis is focused on sprinting back on the field while helping revive the program.
“I’m just imagining running out in front of 90,000 people and winning,” Davis said. “That’s all I’m thinking about — winning.”