When Derrick Davis was a junior at Meridian High School in 2004, he gained 1,923 yards and scored 24 touchdowns on the same team that featured another current Rebel tailback, Cordera Eason.
Derrick, unfortunately, tore up his knee and missed his senior season while good friend Eason took the RB load for Meridian, gaining 1,934 yards and scoring 21 TDs in what would have been Davis' senior campaign.
Because of the injured knee and missing his senior season, and because Eason became a one-man wrecking crew during the season Davis had to watch from the sidelines, Derrick didn't receive the recruiting attention Cordera did.
But Ole Miss saw something in him, remembering his junior season exploits, they wanted. He committed to the Rebs prior to Eason with less fanfare, but with the same promise.
Eason played last year sparingly - at tailback, while Derrick redshirted and was moved to fullback.
"My knee wasn't quite right when I got to Ole Miss. It was physically sound, but I still didn't have my full range of motion," Davis, a quiet sort who smiles a lot, said. "I figured I would redshirt to give me some time to get my knee back to 100% and to get all my movement back.
"I hadn't cut or run full speed in a long time, so I had to relearn some things physically and mentally. My redshirt year got me back on track, football-wise. It seemed like my comeback and rehab took a long time, but that's over now."
Sometimes when a player, particularly running backs it seems, has a major knee injury - which Derrick's was, there are mental barriers to overcome.
What's it going to feel like the first time it is hit? Will it hold up to the contact? Can I cut without pain? How will my endurance be?
Derrick says he didn't go through too much of those mind games and mental blocks.
"I can honestly say I didn't let it bother me too much. My doctor said I was good so I took him at his word," explained Davis. "There was no reason to worry about it, in my mind. If I had been worrying, I probably would have hurt it again trying to protect it.
"The first time the knee got hit, I didn't think about it until after practice, really. Then it kind of struck me that I had taken contact on the knee and it was no big deal. Just like before when I was playing at Meridian."
Davis believes he has been able to regain most of his movement and speed he had prior to the injury.
"I believe I have gotten back all my speed and movement, and if not all, I'm very, very close," he maintains. "When I was inactive, I got up to 240 pounds, which slowed me down some, but I'm back down at a lower weight now and feel faster than ever."
When Derrick was told he would move to fullback from running back, he had no real concerns or problems with the news, other than unfamiliarity.
"I had never played fullback before. It's totally different - it's tougher, but I was fine with the move. I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team," he stated. "I haven't adjusted to it totally, because I played some tailback on the service (scout) team, but I learned enough about fullback to get a good jump on this spring."
Most backs who are used to having the ball in their hands in high school and then are moved to FB, where they block for the guy with the rock most of the time, harbor desires to move back to tailback. Derrick is no different, but he's also fine with fullback.
"Sure, I'd love to go back to tailback, but that's not in the cards right now. I'm a fullback for now and I will do my best to help the team at fullback. If the coaches ever want me to move back, I'll be ready, but I'll do my best no matter where they put me," he noted.
There was discussion among the fans that maybe Derrick should be tried at linebacker. Derrick chuckled at that notion.
"That's the first I have heard of that," he laughed. "But I will say this, if the coaches asked me, I'd give anything a try. I haven't played defense since junior high though."
Derrick weighs 220 pounds now. He thinks that's a good weight for him, right now.
"I think I will eventually put on more weight, but right now 220 is a good weight for me. I don't want to put on fat, I want to put on muscle and that's a slower process," Davis explained. "This offseason, I will work hard on my strength and speed and I hope that will translate into another five pounds or so."
Having not played prior to last season for over a year, the pace of things on the college level was a harder adjustment for Derrick than the "normal" freshman.
"I am keeping up with the pace and the intensity level better on this level now, but my adjustment was more difficult because when I got here last summer I was out of shape for having to sit out my senior season and my knee still being a little weak," assessed Davis. "I feel good now about keeping up with the pace. I'm adjusted now."
Derrick doesn't know what this year will bring, but he feels he's on equal turf now that he is in top shape, he is confident of his knee and he has seen what it takes to succeed on the collegiate level.
Will he return to the form he had as a junior in high school? We'll see, but Derrick Davis thinks it's a lock and only a matter of time.
Derrick Davis update
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