Davis, Knox: Gators running backs 'a family' with high expectations

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida running back Malik Davis performs a drill at the Sanders practice field.

All the talk of Florida’s impending improvements in the run game have sparked the conversation of competition, specifically how each running back reacts to the additions to the room. 

Having added five-star prospects via the transfer portal in consecutive years in Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman, respectively, the Gators are in preseason camp with five running backs in position to carry — and catch — the football this season: presumed starter Dameon Pierce, redshirt senior Malik Davis and redshirt sophomore Nay’Quan Wright to go along with the aforementioned transfers. 

It wouldn’t be misguided to assume players who signed with the Gators out of high school — Davis, Pierce and Wright — would feel some type of way about competition arriving at their position. Considering the transfer portal is rather new, who knows how they would have reacted? 

The running backs might have seen it as a sign their position coach, Greg Knox, lacked faith in their ability to carry the load on their own. 

Or, it might have resulted in self-doubt creeping into the minds of one of the three.

But Davis said that’s not the case at all — spend some time around the unit, and you’ll find out Atticus Finch was wrong: sometimes you can also choose your family. 

“We’re a family. I’m not just saying this for the cameras. When you come in there and you hang around us, you’ll see,” Davis said. “We’re laughing together all day. We’re joking together all day. We’ll motivate each other. We’re all close, so it’s easy.”

Signs of the running back room’s camaraderie have made their way to the public eye. 

Take a look at Lingard’s Twitter account – @d1champ99 – and you’ll notice the former Miami signee is fully invested in promoting his fellow teammates; he’s also visited UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital during preseason camp, another sign Lingard’s invested in the improvement of those around him. 

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers. 

“He came in — guys have their own expectations, of course. Everybody wants to play. That’s just the competitiveness that we have. Everyone wants to play. For him to sit back and play his role that he had and support us, and every day he’s the same type of guy,” Davis said of Lingard. “Even today, we talked, we spoke today after practice about things that he liked that I did today. He was pointing some of those things out to me. That just shows you what type of person he is.”

Neither has it gone unnoticed by Knox, who enters his 24th season of coaching in the SEC. 

The embrace of competition and empowerment over division is one of the reasons the adaptation process has been serene in the Gators’ backfield. 

“They have — I'm not gonna say they accepted it, but we've been a family all along since they got here. So, it hasn't been an issue of accepting them. It's just when anyone comes into our room, we welcome them into the family. And so it's been a smooth transition for those guys, you know, that came in, Bowman and Lorenzo. Again, we're such a good family, got such a great group of guys that the transition has been very smooth." 

And it’s one of the reasons Florida’s run game is confident it can collectively produce in 2021 after finishing last season ranked No. 93 in the nation in rushing yards per game. 

“I expect big things. I expect us to be able to run the ball, catch the ball, protect the quarterback,” Davis said. “I think all of us can do all of that all around. I think we’re bringing a lot to the table.”