April 4, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Never having spent time on the other side of the world, Paul “PJ” Davis doesn’t know any more about a Tasmanian Devil than he knows how to slow down while working. Georgia Tech’s devilish linebacker merits a comparison, though, and smiles upon learning of the rare and fiendish marsupial.
The rising junior led the Yellow Jackets with 119 combined tackles and assists last season, when he was especially violent late while accumulating 27 more tackles in the season than his nearest teammate, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Having been quite a menace Saturday morning in Tech’s practice, No. 40 came up when head coach Paul Johnson was asked who’d stood out.
“The defense, today definitely was their day. They out-hit the offense, and played better than the offense did when they played against each other,” Johnson said. “PJ Davis always plays pretty good. He makes plays. The interior guys have a hard time blocking him, especially the second team. They can’t get in the way.”
There’s little chance of getting in the way of a Tasmanian Devil, and Davis shares characteristics with the animal unique to the Australian island of Tasmania. Chiefly, they’re of stocky, muscular build and they hunt and feed with ferocity.
That’s like Davis when he’s hunting and tackling.
With two full seasons under defensive coordinator Ted Roof and linebackers coach Andy McCollum, the honorable mention All-ACC performer plays so quickly that at times there is a tendency to wonder if there is more than one of him.
“This is going into my third year, and every year I try to up my game and keep trying to get faster and faster,” Davis said. “They both are great coaches.”
At, “barely 5-feet- 10,” and about 228 pounds, the former Cairo High star goes about his business with exceeding diligence. He arrives at a scene quickly, and locks up with fervor and several goals rolled into one sum: level mayhem.
Adam Gotsis should know. The rising senior tackle is from Australia, and he works closely with Tech’s, “Tazzy.”
At first, the big guy from Down Under chuckled at such a comparison. After mulling it, Gotsis said, “Yeah, in a way. He’s just one of those guys who won’t stop at anything to get what he wants.
“He’s ready to come downhill and hit someone. For him, size doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how big you are, how fast, he’s going to do his best to beat you. That’s the mentality that he brings. He’s got that killer instinct.”
Size has mattered for Davis, and it matters still.
He was lightly recruited out of Cairo, near the Florida border. Sure, he routinely wrought havoc upon opponents. But at 5-9, 205 pounds as a senior . . .
“I used to go to a lot of camps when I was younger trying to get recruited. My parents would take me,” he recalled. “I had coaches tell me, `I love your film, you’re a great player,’ but they always would say, `you’re just a little too small.’
“They just felt like I was too small to play linebacker in Division I football. I just kept a chip on my shoulder, kept my faith strong, and believed in God. Coach Mac and Coach Johnson gave me that chance.”
Davis has run with his golden opportunity. And run and run and run. That’s what he does, after all, and he plays every snap as if it’s a way to offer thanks.
Twice last season, he was named ACC Linebacker of The Week, and he finished in rabid fashion with nine tackles at N.C. State, 13 against Clemson, seven at Georgia, 11 against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game and 11 against Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
Although not asked to blitz terribly often, Davis’ 8.5 tackles for lost yardage and four sacks both ranked second on the team overall.
As one of eight returning starters on a defense that improved dramatically as last season wore on, he can — typically — hardly wait for the 2015 season to begin.
“Coach McCollum came down to Cairo and saved me; I would have been in Philadelphia, at Temple University,” Davis said with a smile. “We have a lot of returning players, a lot more experience. Also, with all those returning we have a lot more leadership. We can show the young guys, and help them out.”