Gators LB Jarrad Davis has quickly earned respect

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The giveaway that Jarrad Davis was making a favorable impression on Florida’s coaching staff and his teammates came before the Missouri game in October.

In the moments prior to the seventh game of Davis’ college career, he walked to midfield as one of Florida’s four captains. A pair of fifth-year senior offensive linemen — Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio — and sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. joined Davis.

The then-true freshman linebacker had one career tackle on his resume at that point.

Didn’t matter. Gators coach Will Muschamp had seen and heard enough.

"He might be as well-respected of a player in our locker room as anyone because it’s real," Muschamp said. "When you’ve earned the respect of the coaching staff, it’s one thing, when you’ve earned the respect of your teammates it’s another."

Davis began his first season at UF playing on special teams. Soon, injuries decimated Florida’s linebackers and by the end of the season Davis was playing regularly, including a pair of starts.

He didn’t waste his opportunity.

Spring preview

"I was really hungry to get out there on the field defensively," Davis said. "I took on that role of playing special teams and helping the team out any way I can. I was happy where I was at, but I was still hungry."

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds, Davis enjoys contact. He wants to be the guy with an opportunity to make a big play.

Three weeks after serving as captain at Missouri, Davis earned his first career start at South Carolina, a game in which he also served as a captain again.

Davis and teammate Brian Poole made one of the biggest plays of the game when they stopped Gamecocks running back Mike Davis on fourth down. The next week in a loss to Georgia Southern, Davis recorded a career-high seven tackles.

Davis also forced a fumble near Florida’s goal line with a hard hit on Georgia Southern running back Irving Huggins. Gators teammate Darrin Kitchens recovered. Those plays introduced Davis on a much bigger stage than his days at Camden County High in Kingsland, Ga.

"A lot of people didn’t really know about me," Davis said.

Davis committed to Auburn as a junior in high school but a coaching change prompted him to reconsider. In the end it was down to Georgia — where high school teammates J.J. Green and Brice Ramsey landed — and Florida.

The Bulldogs wanted him more than the Gators, so Davis decided to visit Florida with his mother Amy to make sure the Gators knew more about him.

"Off a whim, really," said Davis, who had never been to a Florida game.

However, he watched enough of the Gators’ attacking defense in 2012 to know he wanted to play in that type of system.

"I saw how good they did," Davis said. "I really wanted to play for a team with a great defense. I was really heavy on Florida before they ever looked at me. There’s a lot of different styles of defense you can play, but I really loved their style.

Another year

"It really stood out to me, always attacking and aggressive."

Away from the field, Davis exudes a relaxed and calm demeanor. He said he gets that from his dad, John. His mother is the more demonstrative of his parents, and Davis attributes his attitude in pads to her.

While he started part-time as a junior at Camden County, it wasn’t until his senior season he blossomed into a top prospect. He wanted to play at Florida and was determined to make it happen.

He carried that tunnel-vision goal with him everywhere he went as a prep senior.

"I’m a pretty simple guy," he said. "I try to stay on the straight and narrow. I try to keep distractions and drama out of my life. I don’t like having extra things that can impede my path to where I want to get."

Davis eventually landed the scholarship offer he coveted from the Gators and signed in a class that featured more touted linebackers such as Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin.

Davis delivered a solid freshman season, finishing with 24 tackles, including two tackles-for-loss. He is projected to be a regular contributor at linebacker entering his sophomore season and can play inside or outside linebacker.

Muschamp said Davis excels in part because of his outlook.

"He’s a guy that has got a lot of maturity about him," Muschamp said. "Football is very important to him. He works hard. He’s a physical, tough player. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard in the classroom. He works hard on the practice fields.

"I think all those things combined, he’s a natural leader."

At Monday afternoon’s open practice, Davis caused fans to take notice when he delivered a hard pop on running back Mack Brown on a screen play.

Davis wants to capitalize on his freshman season with a strong spring camp.

"The biggest thing that I took out of [last season] is that I feel I need to improve in all areas and aspects of the game," Davis said. "A good spring for me is showing the coaches that I’m someone they can really rely on, when times are tough and when times are easy, I’m somebody they can trust to go out there on the field and trust to make a play.

"It’s kind of hard for me to play the background. It’s competition. That’s all it is."