When Darius Davis arrived at Alcorn State two years agao, he didn’t leave any of his confidence behind in Jackson, La., where he started four years at East Feliciana High School.
Davis was ready to play, ready to join the Braves' “big boy” football offense, which relies first on powering past opponents with a strong running game led by a strong offensive line.
What Davis found instead was a group of hurdles that often face a college freshman. He began at the back of the line. He fought off frustration and kept practicing, then got his opportunity to start against Southern last season.
“I’ve been a starter ever since,” said Davis, who will line up against the Jaguars at right guard in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Davis got his chance last season when starting right guard Chris McCrea, now the team’s left tackle, suffered an injury. The Braves steamrolled Southern for 383 yards rushing that day, and Davis was off and running.
“My freshman year I had the big head coming from high school and didn’t get much playing time,” Davis said in a phone interview. “That was just preparing me for the next year.
“It boosted me up. I had been down and aggravated. I showed coach (Fred McNair) what he wanted to be seen. That boosted my confidence high and kept me going, kept me motivated doing the right things. Freshman year, I didn’t understand freshmen didn’t play much. I had to learn and grow up and become a man, understand my time was coming.”
Davis has arrived and again is leading the way for an Alcorn running game that averages 274.3 yards — well ahead of No. 2 Southern at 207.7. His position coach and offensive coordinator, Ryan Stanchek, calls Davis a “road grader” and an important part of the five-player group.
“He’s really developed into a stout offensive lineman and has led the way,” Stancheck said. “He’s a very important cog in that offensive line. We led the nation in yards per carry last year and we were eighth this year.
“He always comes to practice with a smile on his face and a very good work ethic. He’s really matured this season.”
Part of the maturity element was the result of heartbreak. His father died before the season, changing Davis' perspective on life. He has taken on the responsibility, even from afar, of caring for his mother and younger sister, a freshman at East Feliciana.
“It was a moment I had to sit down and self-talk with myself and realize I would be living in two places at one time,” Davis said. “I put it on my shoulders and rolled with it. I make sure they’re taken care of, try to maintain at school and at home.”
Said Stanchek: “He understands now that football isn’t hard; life’s hard. He struggled with it. His life experiences have helped him encourage other athletes.”
His high school coach, Cedric Anderson, could see Davis’ maturity early on and that he was “wise beyond his years.” Davis started four years on offense and defense for the Tigers and was named all-district junior and senior year.
He was liked and respected by his teammates, who voted him captain.
“He was confident yet a humble young man,” Anderson said. “He always asked a lot of pertinent questions and was a joy to coach. He was always mature, but I can see maturity in him more so now. He stepped in with (his) mother and younger sister who is a freshman here.”
Davis might have ended up at Southern where three of his former teammates are on the roster. But Alcorn State was on him early, visiting him in his freshman year and assistant Wes Turner offering him as a junior. All but one SWAC school offered him — including Southern three weeks before signing day — but Davis rewarded the Braves' loyalty by honoring his commitment.
Davis said he’s happy for those high school friends — cornerback Tim Thompson, running back Chris Chaney and lineman David Odendahl — but Saturday is all business.
“I talked to Tim Sunday after the Bayou Classic,” he said. “I was happy they have a chance to play for a championship. I want my guys to do well, but when Saturday comes, it’s game time, and we’ve got to get these rings. Our goal isn’t just to get to Atlanta but get to Atlanta and win.”