Davis wants to show Gamecocks what they missed
Quinshad Davis was about to commit to South Carolina as a high school junior. But one day after he visited the school, the Gamecocks received commitments from three other receivers and Davis decided to hold off.
Now Davis is North Carolina's No. 1 receiver. The sophomore from Gaffney also will be the only South Carolina native on the roster when the Tar Heels visit the Gamecocks in Thursday’s season opener (6 p.m., ESPN).
“The fans down there are like, ‘He’s not good enough to play for us, that’s why he didn’t come,’” said Davis, who grew up in Clemson territory as a Florida Gators fan. “I just want to show them what I can do.”
The doubters had ammunition from the first half of last season. After missing the start of training camp with a medical condition that Davis said still is undiagnosed, the receiver struggled to become a part of UNC’s record-setting offense.
Things changed in the final four games. He had a career-high six catches against N.C. State, then his first 100-yard game against Georgia Tech.
Those were just preludes to his game at Virginia, when he tied an ACC record with 16 receptions (for 178 yards). Davis then finished the year with 135 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland.
Davis said it took time to connect with quarterback Bryn Renner on the field.
“At first, I was a fresh face and he didn’t really know me,” Davis said. “I just had to gain his trust in practice, and when he threw me the ball, I caught it and that transferred to the game.”
Even with the slow start, Davis established school records for receptions (61) and receiving yards (776) by a freshman.
UNC coach Larry Fedora said he expects the sophomore to continue his torrid pace this season, and said Davis is very capable of catching 100 passes if he stays healthy.
Davis said he wasn’t shocked when he heard that prediction — even though Conner Vernon of Duke, the conference’s all-time leading receiver, led the ACC with 85 catches a year ago.
“When they were recruiting me, they told me you could get 100 catches in this offense," Davis said. "You just have to make plays.”
The coaches also told Davis that if he wanted to take his game to another level, he needed to get stronger. So the 6-4 wideout gained 20 pounds in the offseason and is listed at 205.
“His body’s changing,” Fedora said. “He’s proud of that, because he’s worked hard. He’s not that skinny, bird-chested kid when he came into camp. He’s taken some pride in that.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Davis’ willingness to learn and his football IQ.
“He is still that very eager football player that when you talk to him, his eyes get big and he’s listening and absorbing everything you say,” Fedora said. “The great thing about Quinshad is that he has such great football savvy, so you can tell him something and he can understand what you’re telling him and you can see it on his next rep. You can see him make it work that way. Not everybody can do that.”
Now Davis is the leader of an inexperienced group. The only other UNC receiver with more than 10 career catches is junior Sean Tapley (26). The third starting receiver, sophomore Kendrick Singleton, played on special teams last season. Davis is backed up by T.J. Thorpe, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, and true freshman Bug Howard.
That unit now will have to perform against a South Carolina defense that ranked 13th in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed last season. And it will have to do in front of about 80,000 opposing fans in Williams-Brice Stadium.
It will be the toughest crowd Davis has faced in his career. But at least he’s used to facing criticism from South Carolinians.
“If you don’t go in-state,” Davis said. “They get mad.”