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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Nebraska has had success in the graduate-transfer market under Scott Frost. That trend may continue with Kanawai Noa. Click here to read more.
Perhaps the final piece for Ben Stille is on-field disruption. With a full offseason of strength training, he could be the biggest in-house improvement on the team as a pass rusher and edge setter. Click here to read more.
Here comes Nebraska’s long-term answer at nose tackle. A season to learn under older brother and grad transfer Darrion Daniels won’t hurt for Damion Daniels, and neither will another offseason to build his strength and conditioning. Click here to learn more.
Nebraska's Mike Williams already has the speed, the hands and the understanding of the offense. If he can also be a consistent blocker, his playing time could spike as much as anyone on the team. Click here to read more.
Collin Miller made 17 tackles in 12 games as a reserve. Now, Miller's job is more clearly defined, and whether through ability or attrition, he will get a chance to prove his versatility and the fruits of his hard work. Click here to read more.
For all of Nebraska’s uncertainty at outside linebacker, Tyrin Ferguson represents perhaps the most reliable option when 100 percent. For the senior, though, being at 100 percent isn't always a given. Click here to read more.
Trent Hixson, from Omaha Skutt, got a taste of major college football while appearing in four games last year. Since then, O-line coach Greg Austin describes him as playing with “his hair on fire.” Click here to read more.
In a sense, Dismuke is the last man standing. Now the junior with 44 career tackles in 20 games (one start) is perhaps a favorite to start at safety. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Kade Warner knows the offense, he blocks consistently, and he doesn’t drop passes. The 20-year-old wideout caught 17 balls for 95 yards in nine games last year. Click here to read more.
Noah Vedral, who followed Scott Frost from UCF, is as versed in the offense as any current Husker. If nothing else, he’s a valuable insurance policy for starter Adrian Martinez. Click here to read more.
Alex Davis played all 12 games last year with four starts. Until now, it’s been more about thinking than reacting for the 23-year-old whom teammates call “Ace.” Click here to read more.
Another offseason of strength training and familiarity with Nebraska's scheme gives Caleb Tannor the potential to become one of the team’s most valuable defenders. Click here to read more.
As a redshirt freshman, Austin Allen caught two passes for 54 total yards. The Aurora product will be in a battle with Kurt Rafdal for the second-string tight end spot behind Jack Stoll. Click here to read more.
Inside linebacker Will Honas only appeared in four games last season and racked up 15 tackles, including one for loss. This season he'll have beat out three others for that starting position. Click here to read more.
Miles Jones will line up all over the field. Nebraska’s thin at running back, so there’s a good chance he’ll get a decent load of carries. Click here to read more.
With how often Nebraska will rotate defensive linemen, sophomore Deontre Thomas will see the field as long as he’s healthy. And he may finally be able to contribute to a pass rush with his size and speed off the ball. Click here to read more.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Jaron Woodyard to make an imprint in his senior year. The junior college transfer still presents an opportunity to take the top off a defense, but only if he can find his way onto the field. Click here to read more.
Should he prove he can block and become a consistent option for Adrian Martinez, Andre Hunt could easily become Nebraska's third starting wide receiver. Click here to read more.
Noa Pola-Gates may need to pack on some weight this summer and fall to have a chance at playing right away, but the ceiling for the No. 2 player from the state of Arizona is high. Click here to read more.
The comparison to Dave Rimington by Scott Frost isn’t rubbing away anytime soon for Cameron Jurgens. He has a chance to start in on that legacy this year as the odds-on favorite to be Nebraska’s starting center. Click here to read more.
Kurt Rafdal averaged 16.8 yards per catch, fantastic for a tight end, particularly for a freshman. He gives Adrian Martinez a red-zone option should the NU receiving corps take a while to come along this season. Click here to read more.
Nebraska has struggled to keep linemen healthy the past few years, and if one goes down, Christian Gaylord could take over on either side if needed. Click here to read more.
Though young, Braxton Clark is a tall corner who will fit behind Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle. Click here to read more.
Matt Sichterman is a former three-star recruit from Cincinnati. He has put on weight and could move inside to a guard spot if necessary. Click here to read more.
You could argue the position group with the most question marks is running back, making Rahmir Johnson’s presence even more important. He ran for more than 2,300 yards as a senior in high school. Click here to read more.
Barret Pickering was money at the end of last season. As a true freshman, he nailed his final 10 field-goal attempts, including three in the snow against Michigan State for a 9-6 upset win. Click here to read more.
Nebraska's Joseph Johnson wears weight on his frame well after a redshirt season, and now he’s needed at inside linebacker, which has a firm alpha in Mohamed Barry and a lot of questions otherwise. Click here to read more.
Watching the tape of Quinton Newsome at safety is like watching a natural at the position. His ceiling as a safety is as high as that of Deontai Williams — who’s bound for a special 2019 himself. Click here to read more.
Isaac Armstrong averaged 43.6 yards per punt — ninth-highest in Husker history — and pinned the opponent inside its own 20 nine times. He can be a weapon for the Huskers this fall. Click here to read more.
The younger brother of starting right tackle Matt Farniok, Will is shorter but possesses many of the same qualities as Matt. Tough, athletic, plays to the whistle. Click here to read more.
In the right situations, Katerian LeGrone can be the kind of big-play guy Cethan Carter used to be for the Huskers. Click here to read more.
Honorable mention: QB Andrew Bunch, RB Wyatt Mazour, P William Pryzstup, DB Jeramiah Stovall, LS Chase Urbach, ILB Jackson Hannah, WR Jamie Nance, WR Darien Chase, QB Luke McCaffrey, DE Chris Walker. Click here for more on the Huskers that received honorable mention.