COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Opening Day is right around the corner, and Maryland junior safety Sean Davis admits he still gets a few jitters with baseball season about to start. A star centerfielder all through middle school and through four years at tiny Maret School in Washington, D.C., Davis had a chance to be drafted out of high school. In fact, he didn't even begin lacing on the pads and donning a helmet until his junior year, meaning this is just his fifth year of organized football.
But while Davis once saw himself ticketed for a career on the diamond, he took to the gridiron game so well that it earned him multiple Division I scholarship offers from the likes of North Carolina, Boston College, Connecticut and Maryland. Davis ultimately chose the hometown school, and while he considered continuing his baseball career as a Terps walk-on, he ultimately decided football was his game now.
"I wanted to keep playing baseball, but I just didn't love it enough anymore," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Davis, who also gave up trying to speak Chinese and French, two languages he dabbled in during middle school and high school. "My love is football, and that's what I'm on scholarship for. If I could still play baseball I would, but it's just too much. It's really hard.
"I was realistic with the time commitment and all of that. I'm here to play football, and I have to concentrate my time on that. My football preparation can't drop because I'm playing another sport."
Davis' preparations have seemingly paid off after two years in College Park. Forced into action his freshman year due to injuries and lack of depth, Davis ended up playing all 13 games in 2012, starting two. While his speed -- the same giddyup that allowed him track down fly balls in centerfield -- and athleticism were apparent, Davis made several mental errors, getting beat deep on a couple blown coverages.
But the trial-by-fire freshman campaign actually helped Davis heading into his sophomore season. With a grasp on Brian Stewart's defense and after getting used to college football's up-tempo pace, he earned the No. 1 strong safety job out of spring ball and ended up starting every game. Playing in the box and hovering near the line, Davis developed a knack for finding the ball-carrier, leading to a team-high 103 tackles.
And while fellow safety Anthony Nixon did the bulk of the deep-coverage work, Davis still came away with two picks and a handful of pass breakups. He recorded his first career interception in a victory against Old Dominion, nabbed his second pick during a loss to Boston College, and even recovered a fumble during the Terps' blowout victory against West Virginia.
"I think I had a pretty good year last year, but I had some bad plays here in there too," Davis admitted. "But I'm just trying to work on my game, trying to be consistent. Consistency is the main thing with me."
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall more or less agreed with Davis. He mentioned how his junior safety made progress last year and has continued to improve this spring, but every once in awhile Davis will hit a lull.
"Sean's biggest thing we're working with him on is his focus and concentration and not having mental lapses," Edsall said. "But he's getting better, he's staying focused, he's quicker with his reads. If we can just continue that progress with him he has a chance to be a really good football player."
Physically, Davis certainly seems to be on-point. He's been flying around most of the spring, coming up with a couple nifty breakups and showing plenty of quickness in coverage.
"I've really been good with my breaks and getting to the ball, but I've gottta get more picks man," Davis said. "I've been getting the PBUs, but I've gotta get more picks.
"And just learning the offense more. I feel like I know the defense inside-out now. The defensive stuff, like peaking in the backfield, that's over with. Now I just have to learn the [offensive] tendencies and get that down."
That could be a bit of a challenge considering Davis has yet to see the likes of Penn State or Michigan during his college career. Having played his first two seasons against ACC foes, it figures to take some extra preparation to learn the Big Ten teams.
"To tell you the truth, I'm just concentrating on me and my game. I'm not worried about [Big Ten offenses]," Davis said. "I'll tell you this – I'm trying to put on some weight now that I have to deal with those big running backs (laughs), but other than that I'm not really concerned about [the new offenses]."
Davis, however, is just one cog in a veteran secondary that, while short on seniors, boasts four returning starters. At one corner spot, sophomore Will Likely capitalized off J.J. Johnson's Week 1 season-ending foot injury and had a solid freshman campaign. Johnson, meanwhile, is healthy and ready to bounce back in a big way, reverting to 2012 form when he flashed lockdown abilities.
At free safety, junior Anthony Nixon has been a steady cover-man since his arrival in College Park, while Davis will man the strong safety spot.
"The secondary is looking real good. Will Likely is balling, I've got my homeboy, Nixon, starting beside me, and JJ is coming back strong," Davis said. "We had an adjustment with the field corner, Alvin Hill, so I'm getting my chemistry down with him, but we've been doing good with that."
Speaking of chemistry, the bond between Davis and Nixon has grown considerably since they arrived at Maryland. Not only are they friends off the field, but they know each other's on-field tendencies after growing together the last two seasons.
"Our chemistry is real good, and we have a feel for each other. On certain plays we can switch off -- one guy can bump down, one guy can drop back," Davis said. "We're allowed to rock and roll, change things up, feel out each other. There's no need to run across the field to find out what's going on if something doesn't look right; I'm able to do his job and he's able to do mine. He's a great technician and I wouldn't' want to play beside anybody else."
Although Nixon figures to have more coverage opportunities considering he's the free safety, Davis said he'll be competing with his teammate for interceptions. In fact, Davis' goal is to triple last year's pick production.
"I feel like six or seven [interceptions] is a good number," Davis said. "That's what I'm shooting for. Like I said, I've got the PBUs, now I need those picks."
Sounds about right. After tracking down fly balls most of his life, seven snags should be no problem.
Davis Knocking It Out of the Park
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