Oct. 16, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Paul Davis was a bit late to the show, yet so quick in the game that it is easy to see that Georgia Tech’s most prominent true freshman football player this fall knows one way to go about his business: full speed.
The undersized outside linebacker is playing quite a bit, and his 20 combined tackles and assists are tied with tackle Adam Gotsis for seventh on the team.
Not bad for a young man who had just one major college scholarship offer – from Temple – until about a week before signing day in February.
Davis was just days from signing a letter of intent to jet away to Philadelphia to play football when Tech recruiting coordinator/linebackers coach Andy McCollum called and made him a late offer.
It did not take, “Seabiscuit,” any time at all to make a decision: he flipped his commitment and became a Yellow Jacket.
Nicknamed by his mother after the famed, smallish horse of literary and cinematic fame, Davis wasted little time after practice began in August showing that he belonged at 5-feet-10, 215 pounds.
“I came in trying to go hard, trying to get the coaches to notice me, and it so happened that I had a good camp and I became a true freshman [earning playing time],” Davis said. “You know, I’m from south Georgia and that’s basically how football is played. In Cairo, we go hard, hard . . . that’s about all we know.”
Indeed, the Syrupmakers of Cairo High go that way.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof noticed.
Asked how quickly the young linebacker made an impression once the pads went on and the real hitting began, the coach smiled. He recalled Davis’ eyes being wide open all the time, and him running, and running and running.
“The first couple weeks he kind of played every defense the same. He would kind of . . . you could see his eyes going and he was figuring out what was going on, and he’d just kind of slip his body in there. Most of the time, he’d end up in the right place.”
And when Davis arrives at said place, he often does so with a wallop.
Wearing No. 40, he brings to mind the last guy to wear the jersey.
Julian Burnett also was “undersized” at linebacker, yet once he got the chance to play more a few seasons back – and it took head coach Paul Johnson urging former defensive coordinator Al Groh to make that happen as Groh fancied very large ‘backers – Burnett was a fast and furious sort.
Davis has been that way a while, like since he was five. At first it was flag football, but he built much of his instinct and style out in the yard, or school yard, with the guys.
They’d rough each other up pretty good, like the time when big Terandy Pittman came crashing down on him and he put up hands to try and stop or repel him.
“I broke my wrist – the growth plate in my wrist – playing sandlot,” Davis said. “One of the big dudes in our neighborhood, he fell on me and I tried to catch him to get him off me and my wrist went back and popped. Every day after school we’d play tackle football, no pads, sandlot football.”
In the parlance of the game, Davis plays a sudden form of football, and he packs a thud factor. That’s good stuff. Every defense benefits from players who can shake things up.
That’s why No. 40 has found himself subbing frequently for starters, playing special teams and in some special defensive packages as well.
“I think P.J. Davis has been pretty consistent all year,” Johnson said. “He plays with a high motor and high energy. I think that’s what coach Roof feels like. Some of those guys, the starters, haven’t played up to his expectations.
“There needs to be consequences. So if you don’t play well, [like] you’re supposed to take the quarterback and you don’t, take the quarterback, something has to happen.”
Davis – who is typically referred to by coaches and teammates as P.J., “because I’m Paul Jr.,” he said – is making things happen. That’s been his way.
“They called me Sea Biscuit because that horse was small and everybody always looked over him. At the end of the movie he became a champion,” he said. “I would say I’m best at going sideline to sideline with my speed; I think I can get to the ball.”
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