Davis Is Ready For His First Game In Chapel Hill

Many football fans on Tobacco Road will never forget Signing Day 2002.

That's when cornerback A.J. Davis, one of the land's very best recruits out of Northern Durham High School, ended a fierce recruiting battle between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels by signing with NC State. Davis had previously given a verbal commitment to play for UNC, but when he inked with the Pack, an already-intense rivalry was heightened even more.

The last time the Wolfpack played the Heels in Chapel Hill, Davis was sitting out as a redshirt with a broken leg. On Saturday, the redshirt sophomore will get his first chance to play the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium, and while he knows he may hear it from the UNC fans, he isn't going to let it alter his approach to the contest.

"I can't really worry about that. I can't hear them when I'm on the field, so I'm not going to have rabbit ears," said Davis. "I'm not worried about it; I've played in hostile environments, so I just have to take it like that. I just worry about the game, not what's going on behind me.

"I don't want to do anything over the top. I always want to keep it the same: Respect my opponents and just learn as much as I can this week building up to the game."

He's already hearing from friends who are Tar Heels fan this week, but he insists that's nothing new for him in the days before any game.

"They joke about every game," said Davis. "I have friends that were Ohio State fans and I gave them tickets to the game, and they were up there in their red, ‘Go Ohio State.' It's all fun and games, but when we kick the ball off, I have to do what I have to do."

The 5-10, 183-pounder is one of the reasons that NC State's defense is surrendering nearly 200 fewer passing yards per game than it did a season ago. In 2003, the Pack was ranked 116th overall in pass defense, allowing more than 284 yards per contest. This year, State is giving up an average of 92.2 yards per game, best in the nation.

Davis hasn't started a game, but he's getting nearly as many snaps as a starter. In 132 plays, he has collected nine tackles, half a sack and three pass breakups.

"I'm a starter, if you really look at it and understand what we're doing," Davis said. "We start three corners, and you have to with the defense we play. You have to do it.

"I look at myself as a starter. If you look at it technically, quote-unquote, I guess I'm not a ‘starter,' but I'm not worried about it; that's not what's important. As long as we're winning and we're getting the job done."

Davis is playing behind senior cornerbacks Dovonte Edwards and Lamont Reid, who have gotten 190 and 206 snaps, respectively. Having three starting-caliber corners has allowed the Wolfpack to employ its zone-blitzing defense successfully.

"It really helps a whole, whole lot," said Davis. "I've got two seniors in front of me, so from my spot, I'm in the best position. I've always said that I think I'm in the best position anybody could be in, because I've got two people to look up to. It's not just one person to learn from; I can learn from both of them. So it's pretty good.

"I'm glad I'm in this situation; I wouldn't want it any other way."

Playing man-to-man defense is risky business for cornerbacks -- a false step or missed bump at the line could lead to a big gainer for the wide receiver. However, as long as a corner has a short memory, he would rather get up in the wideout's face than sit back in a zone and wait to make a tackle. So predictably, Davis says that he and the other Pack corners relish the pressure that defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's defense puts on them.

"Real corners play man," said Davis, smiling. "Every corner wants to be right up in their face and play man to man. Sometimes you have to play off and change it up a little bit. But that's just the nature of corner: You want to compete, you play right in their face. You can't really compete when you're off the ball and you're in a zone. But sometimes you have to be smart … in the game, you have to take a different approach.

"But when we play around in the summertime, we man it up and say, ‘Let's see who the best is.'"

In his quest to become the best, Davis has turned himself into a film junkie. Feeling that blending his incredible physical gifts with a head for the game would result in him becoming a terrific cornerback, he has learned to live, sleep, eat and breathe football.

"I think I've improved a whole lot," said Davis. "I became a student of the game. Over the summer, I was just in there watching film and kind of critiquing myself. I go home and I take the game with me. I go home and I'm thinking in the bed, ‘How do I get better? What do I need to do?' So I pop in a tape at 12 o'clock at night of Carolina or Duke or whoever we're playing. I'll pop in the tape and just try to learn as much as I can and become a student.

"People ask me all the time, ‘Where have you been?' ‘Watching film.' It's my life. But it's so fun to me, learning. That's a part of the game that I really needed to improve on, because I was just an athlete … That's one way I've stepped up my game now, and everything is starting to come naturally."

And though he wouldn't admit it, you just know that Davis would like nothing more than to use that natural feel to make a game-changing play on the road against the Tar Heels this Saturday.


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