University of Akron free safety Alvin Davis Jr. has been accused of having "little man syndrome."
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, it’s not difficult to see why some would look to his stature to describe him. That would be a mistake.
Since joining the UA football program from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and earning playing time, he’s been, pound-for-pound, one of the hardest hitting and most reliable players on the defense.
“When you're the smallest guy you got to come with something,” Davis said this week after practice, “so I just want to show don't underestimate us.”
His size is a source of amusement for his teammates like fellow defensive back Kyron Brown.
“He's just always picking on me. We're best friends,” Davis said. “We're always cracking jokes, so I just say 'Bro, just because I'm 5-9 don't mean you have to make jokes all the time.' "
His teammates might keep playfully dogging him, but opponents are coming to learn that Davis is no joke on the football field. Just ask Northwestern.
Davis led the Zips' improbable comeback from a 21-3 halftime deficit by contributing two interception returns — one for 97 and the other for 50 yards — for touchdowns. In all, the Zips scored three defensive touchdowns to lift the team to the upset win.
Coach Terry Bowden said the effort reminded him of the infamous “Interception Game” his Auburn team played against LSU on Sept. 17, 1994, when the Tigers scored four times on defense.
As for Davis’ role in things?
“He's a football player. If you said 'Who do you think might do that?', it would be Alvin,” Bowden said in his Tuesday afternoon news conference. “The reason he makes so many tackles — he's one of our top three tacklers — is he's always around the ball.”
Bowden said Davis also loves the game. That and the fact that he’s aggressive in his play, has occasionally led to problems on the field. In prior seasons, issues with targeting provided reason for concern. In an era where player safety in college and the pros is the ultimate consideration, it appeared as if he might have been on the way to acquiring a reputation.
It’s the aggressive way he plays the game for real and in practice. Bowden said during one recent practice he flattened one of the team’s 300-pound offensive linemen during a return on a turnover.
“[Being aggressive] got him in trouble with targeting because he loves to hit people, too, but he's eliminated that this year,” Bowden said.
That’s something that the entire defense worked on, altering tackling techniques. In two games, so far, so good for Davis. But his teammates would not change how he operates on the field.
“Alvin Davis is a special player — just his tenacity on the field with his size,” Brown said. “He plays with that little man syndrome you hear about. He's also very smart. He studies a lot of film, so it's great having him back there.”
Those smarts come from intense film study. When he’s not at practice or in class, Davis said he’s studying film on DVSport, an app made for sports teams. The effort paid off on his two touchdowns against Northwestern.
“We just talked about it before we went on the field,” he said of the first interception. “We needed points on defense. We need to put points up and I was blessed to be in that position to make that play.”
On both plays, he didn’t have clear sailing to the end zone and in each he waited for his blockers to set up to spring him. That’s a testament to Davis and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball, also. Saying they’re better than last year might or might not be true, but their chemistry is palpable. The unit looks fast and swarms to the ball. That bodes well.
“A year playing with each other last year and this year, I think we know what all of us bring to the table. We communicate,” he said. “ We know what bothers each other, so it's kind of like a brotherhood more this year than last year because we're closer this year.”
That could lead to a successful season and Davis could be a huge part of it.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.