Terrapins' Davis shoulders the load

Maryland's junior tight end has the size, strength and speed to carry his team, and his opponents

College Football

September 23, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- As his muscles expanded, the dark green tattoo ink decorating his biceps and forearms stretched. Three black, 45-pound weights with "Maryland Football" painted in red were stacked on each side of the bar tight end Vernon Davis pushed away from his chest in six short, quick bursts.

Above the bench press, where he was working Monday in Gossett Team House, the school's strength records for tight ends were posted. The name "V. Davis" was at the top in all six categories. In each of the past two test periods, he has broken his own records. In the squat, Davis maxed out at 685 pounds, or the equivalent of a heavier-model Harley-Davidson.

While Davis' teammates were chattering around him, his lips quietly trembled with effort.

In his 21 years with the program, Maryland strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said he has never seen an athlete as conditioned as Davis, a junior with roughly 3 percent body fat. While that number is common among elite receivers and defensive backs, Galt said it's "extremely rare" for a tight end the size of Davis, 6 feet 3, 253 pounds.

In the 24 months Davis has been on campus, he has gained 31 pounds while his body fat simultaneously decreased. That means he gained 31 pounds of solid muscle. Galt said it's an accomplishment 99.9 percent of the population is incapable of duplicating.

"When you put that kind of work ethic combined with a guy who's genetically very, very gifted," said Galt, "you're going to get a freak of nature."

Many outside the program have seen Davis drag six Clemson defenders on his back, refusing to go down until somebody yanked a fistful of his dreadlocks.

They've seen back-to-back 100-yard receiving performances in the past two weeks, making him the first Maryland player since 1995 to achieve that.

Fans rose to their feet last week as his fourth-quarter, 73-yard touchdown sparked a possible comeback against West Virginia.

Davis leaves for Wake Forest today having already earned consecutive National Tight End of the Week honors, and the title of Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week.

But few understand the effort Davis pours into it. Although a rare and gifted athlete, he has to work at football. Hard.

"That's what separates him," said Dunbar coach Craig Jeffries, who coached Davis at the Washington high school. "He has to work on running his routes, and he does that. His sophomore year, he went to two-a-day sessions. He worked out both sessions. It was crazy. Nobody wants to work out, period. He does the extra things that separate him from everybody else. The fine parts of the game he really has to work on, like catching the ball, lowering his shoulders."

After watching Davis grab six passes for a career-high 140 yards against Clemson, and then surpass it the next week with 158 yards on five catches, one might wonder why, when Maryland's running game has been stifled, doesn't Davis get the ball more.

"We run a lot of patterns," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "He's either the first or second choice. Sometimes he runs them good, sometimes he doesn't.

"Vernon is a rep guy," Friedgen said after the Terps' 28-24 loss to Clemson. "He had an assignment breakdown third play from the end. Maybe that's coaching. We ran a pattern he hadn't practiced all week. ... Mark that one up to us. We need to rep him in that situation."

Part of the problem is that Davis is in on more plays than any other player on the team. He ran a reverse for 31 yards on a kickoff return against Clemson. Every now and then, he gets a little tired.

"I gotta slow down," Davis said Monday between sets of power cleans.

Friedgen recognizes that.

"What we're trying to do is, when we know he's tired, get him out of the game and get a break so he can go in there and execute," Friedgen said. "That's hard because we've got him on about every personnel group, plus special teams. We want to use his special talents, but I think we gotta be smarter as coaches and know when he's tired to get him out of there."

Davis presents a lot of coverage mismatches. He's often too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs. In scrimmages, Friedgen wears his own whistle because he said sometimes the officials wait too long to blow theirs.

"By the time Vernon gets the ball and he's got about three guys holding him, I blow the whistle," Friedgen said.

Against Clemson, as Davis took numerous Tigers for a piggyback ride, Friedgen grasped at his neck for a whistle he didn't have.

"He doesn't think another human can bring him down," Friedgen said.

"At the time I just want to make a play," said Davis, who, with 13 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns leads the ACC in receiving yards per game with 108. "I just want to get in the end zone when I get the ball. I just don't really think about going down. I just want to stay up. That's going to be something hard for me to change."

Said Friedgen: "I get worried about him."

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