Jason Veltkamp's reputation as a strength and conditioning coach has always centered on what he can do for a defensive lineman. If anyone ever has any doubts, they should look at Alfred Davis, the 6-1, 330-pound sophomore nose tackle.
And when they look, it's what's missing that they'll see.
"My middle, it's gone," Davis said, actually sucking up his shrinking gut to make his point.
"I used to hang out down there. I don't now. See!!! Coach Veltkamp did that.
"Really, everyone helped. My coaches helped motivate me by telling me what I could be. My teammates -- the leaders on this team -- they all helped me. They pushed me in all of the running drills."
No longer does Davis hate the summer workouts that required 55-yard sprints over and over.
"I made all of my times in those this summer, every one," he said. "I can run! I really can now."
Davis redshirted as a true freshman even though coaches saw his potential in isolated hitting drills. His 330-pound frame could soak up a double team by the offensive line. Coaches actually drooled when they saw him play, but they would be disappointed when he couldn't sustain that play for a second snap.
"When I got here, it was just one play and that was it," Davis said. "Then, the next snap would be less energy. The third one, I was finished and I knew it. I just couldn't sustain it.
"Last year, it was a little better. I'd sustain it for two snaps, but that was it. I'd be waving to the sideline or tapping my helmet (to come out)."
Now, he's getting tapped on the helmet by teammates. It's the sign of a great play.
"It used to be, 'Come on, we need you,'" Davis said. "Now, it's man, what a play, and a tap to the hat. I like this. It's fun. I can run, man, I can run!"
That was the only thing holding him back.
"It was after the bowl game, Coach Willy Robinson came to me," he said. "He told me that I had a chance to play if I could get my lateral speed and quickness improved. If I could get that down, I could make plays."
"I started out in the winter running side to side to cones," he said. "Then I added in to it with what the team was doing in the winter. I was better in the spring and made more plays. That just motivated me to have a good summer. Then I made all of the times in the 55 sprints. That's when I knew."
Well, he always knew.
"I've always been confident," he said. "I always said, 'No one can block me.' Now I can run, too."
Defensive line coach Bobby Allen said the talent was always obvious.
"The difference isn't just ability to sustain plays," Allen said. "He's always had that big body that you want in the middle. What he's gotten is ability to keep people off of him. He's improved his pad level, his ability to use his arms to keep people off his legs and then you see that he's in better shape to run to the ball.
"The plays he made Saturday in the scrimmage were not in the middle. They were to the sideline. He showed he can keep the blockers away from his legs, then run to the ball. He got cut a lot in the past. He's not getting cut anymore. That's been huge for him."
Davis said he has tried to show coaches and teammates that he can play an entire series. He isn't sure if he has a limit anymore.
"I think it was one play, then two plays," he said. "Now, I don't know. I think there were times Saturday that I was out there for a long time. I just kept telling myself that I can run now and that I'm able to do this. I'm having fun.
"I think when you see that you have a chance to start, it motivates you to do more. I always wanted to be the starter."
That doesn't mean the Hogs will leave him on the field too long. They have depth at the nose tackle spot. Lavunce Askew and Zach Stadther provide plenty of depth and will push for the starting slot, too.
"I don't think it matters which one of us out of the three are out there," Davis said. "We all can play. That's the beauty of what we have inside now."
It's the same at the other tackle spot with DeQuinta "Dede" Jones, Pat Jones and Byran Jones.
"I think we have a deep meeting room right now," Allen said. "I think all six of our guys can play and will play. We've gotten a lot better as far as depth."
Davis said it's a matter of perfecting what they do.
"The focus in camp is to get alignment and technique correct," he said. "Then, run to the ball. I think all of us are much better in all areas. I think we are putting it all together.
"I feel so much better. I'm stronger. My bench is up to 440. My body fat is down about half. I'm strong and lean for my weight. I'm actually not any lighter. I've just converted it all to muscle. Coach Veltkamp and his guys have done a lot with me. I'm grateful.
"Hey, I'm not bent over out there anymore after a play or two. I think I actually fly around out there a little now. Hey, we are going to have a good one."
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