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.”