When London Davis arrived on the Illinois campus fall of 2008, he was a babe in the woods. An athlete without significant technique training in high school, he looked confused and slow. Coming in overweight and out of shape, some wondered if he was a recruiting mistake. At the least, they figured he couldn't make it as a tight end and would have to move to another position.
What they didn't understand was his desire to be good. He redshirted his first year and saw playing time last season on special teams. When injuries depleted the tight end ranks, Davis was thrust into the starting lineup. His lone reception went for a two yard touchdown.
Experience helped him gain confidence, but new coach Greg Nord has speeded up his development even more.
"Last year I feel like they didn't push me hard enough until it was late in the season. With Coach Nord, he pushes every tight end no matter where they are on the depth chart. We all get reps.
"He's all about the details too. He's strict on them especially with technique. He'll get on you when its time to get on you, but he'll recognize when you do something good.
"With Coach Nord I feel like I'm becoming a lot better player than I was before. He's worked on me with my hands so I feel like I can catch everything."
That last point is especially telling as Davis tended to close his eyes when passes reached him. He has worked hard to make improvements, and it is beginning to show on the field.
Another thing he did was transform his body last winter with Strength & Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez.
"I worked with Coach Lou to lose a lot of weight. I feel faster. I'm making strides in both catching and running. I want to be the best tight end in the country. I'm working hard, and I'm doing what the coaches ask me to do."
The Cahokia product's dedication included staying on campus over Christmas.
"I didn't go home for Christmas break, so when Coach Nord came in I was already here. We got to sit down and know each other a lot more. When he went out to recruit he would call me so we could talk and get to know each other.
"I took it upon myself to become a better player, so I started going to him and watching film with him. I feel like we have a real good relationship. When we had 6:00am workouts, he would call me to make sure I was up. I see him as a father figure."
Davis is high on the tight end corps.
"There's nothing bad you can say about Zach Becker. He's real smart, and he knows the playbook in and out. He plays fullback and tight end.
"Justin [Lattimore] is coming along. For a guy who redshirted last year, he's looking real good. Andrew Carter just started blocking, but I feel like he can help us out.
"This year people will see that we do have a lot of good tight ends. We'll be out on the field a whole lot. I think that's good. The tight end can help a lot. We can be the first look and the check down. I hope they give us a chance to show what we can do."
London Davis has come a long way since he arrived as an untested rookie. And his best days are ahead of him.