Alex Davis

Nebraska linebacker Alex Davis, left, feels like he's finally found some continuity. He'll get a real shot at starting for the Huskers this season, since NU has questions at the position. But Davis is aiming to answer them.

LINCOLN — Alex Davis, in some ways, has always been a step behind.

A basketball star in high school in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Davis didn’t start playing football until he was a senior. He did enough as a tight end to get an offer from Nebraska. But since his arrival, he’s been tossed around. A tight end turned defensive end turned outside linebacker. Mark Banker’s system, then Bob Diaco’s, then Erik Chinander’s. As soon as Davis figured out what he needed to do, where he needed to be, the rules were changed.

But finally he’s found some continuity. And because of it, he feels as if he’s finally caught up.

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“I would say it started clicking for me, honestly, truthfully, I would say last year,” Davis said on “Sports Nightly” last week. “In the beginning, I always asked a lot of questions. I was always the guy who wanted to come in and ask 100 questions because I knew I didn’t know anything. I feel like where it started really clicking for me was when I realized, ‘You know what you need to do, and go have fun with it.’ ”

As a junior outside linebacker, Davis recorded five tackles last season. But with questions at the position, he will once again get a real shot at starting.

He’s bulked up, now to around 255 pounds. That’s in part because of the new workouts from strength coach Zach Duval, but also because Davis learned how to eat the right way. And forced himself to start eating more than he wanted to. Early in his career, he said, he was working out and eating like everyone else but couldn’t gain weight.

So he started piling more food on his plate, food he didn’t like but would be good for him.

“I attacked it like it was a workout,” he said. “Sometimes I’d pour water behind it just to make sure I got the food down.”

The gulps turned into muscles, and now he’s where he needs to be. And coaches have seen a difference. In the spring, coach Scott Frost said he sensed an urgency with Davis he hadn’t during the fall.

“He was around the ball a lot last year, but didn’t quite make the plays, but he’s making them now,” Frost said. “He looks a lot different this spring than last fall. In a good way.”

For Davis, someone who has struggled to find the field, that meant the world. Especially since in years past, he’s seen the disapproving looks from coaches at practice and in games.

There’s always been a little voice in Davis’ head that taunts him when he messes up. But that voice is gone, he said, in part because of his position coach, Jovan Dewitt. Dewitt took a step back from coaching in the spring while undergoing treatment for throat cancer. But even though he wasn’t as involved, Dewitt still showed up to as many practices as he could. He still called Davis and the other outside linebackers and gave notes on what he’d seen from practice film.

When Dewitt did go to practice, that was when Davis got over himself.

“If you have that little voice in your head saying you’re tired, you see a man standing over there going through what his situation is that’s still out here, that’s big,” Davis said. “I get on myself. If I do a bad play I find myself getting in my head like, ‘Dang, you messed up on that, you messed up on that.’ Over and over again. What’s the point? It’s over with. Move on to the next play. That’s something I took from (Dewitt’s) situation. Keep pushing.”

Davis said last week that he senses an increased accountability around the football program. And he can sense, heading into fall camp next month, that there’s a turn coming. For the team, and for him.

“Hard work beats everything,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve shown that.”

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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