It's hard to believe less than 12 months ago, Ja'Gared Davis was still sitting in a Crockett High School classroom preparing for his future as an SMU Mustang. Today, Davis is a rising standout linebacker with the attitude and mentality of a four-year veteran.
After just one season, the soon-to-be sophomore linebacker has learned the position by being thrown into the fire. Davis credits much of his success and the ability to handle a starting position to the "coaching" and advice from fellow linebackers Youri Yenga and Chase Kennemer. "From Youri, I learned how to be more mature and how to carry myself on and off the field." It's a common theme among the SMU linebackers to see this leadership be passed down and the benefits from learning from one another have had a huge impact on Davis, as he now assumes the role of a veteran leader.
Not really expecting to see much playing time due to the depth at linebacker going into last season, the freshman improved his work ethic and stepped up when an injury to Cameron Rogers put him in the starting rotation.
"The most drastic change I know I made during the season was my work ethic. During high school, I was the best athlete in my district and in the area, but I knew when I came to college this was going to be a team full of athletes so I had to work harder and be more mentally into it."
Davis' work ethic paid off when he finished the 2009 campaign with fifty-one tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. But the more telling statistic may be Davis' appearance in all thirteen games.
Those thirteen games, in addition to countless practices, have prepared Davis for a leadership role as a starting linebacker this spring and heading into next season. While the linebackers won't have their main physical and emotional leader in Chase Kennemer, they return an entire group of starters in Pete Fleps, Youri Yenga, Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis.
Davis stressed the importance of the returning starters by saying that the "experience as a group helps us out mentally and physically and we know how to get through adversity when we need to." The loss of Chase Kennemer will leave a hole in the linebacker unit and in the overall defense, but Davis is confident that there will be enough role players to "step up, work hard and takeover" where Chase left off.
While Ja'Gared is up to 216 lbs. from 206 lbs. in a span of six months, he hopes to add close to 20 lbs of muscle over the spring and summer in order to reach his desired goal of 230 lbs. In addition to getting bigger and stronger physically, one of Davis' off-season goals is to "help second and third string guys know the defense just as well as I do," a trait rarely often seen in such a young athlete. The leadership mentality that Ja'Gared takes into the spring not only benefits him and the linebackers, but the entire defense as a whole.
Davis also knows that a talented class of linebackers from the 2010 class is on its way to the hilltop. While "J.G." knows that was him just 12 months ago, his viewpoint has changed as he is being counted on to be a mentor instead of being on the outside looking in. Davis already has plans on how to help out the incoming linebackers, saying that he will "treat them just like Youri and Pete treated me: I'm going to take them under my wing and tell them the ins and outs of what to do and what not to do, how to stay out of trouble, how to go to class and sit in the front row, and how to be a leader."
With spring practice half-way through, it's easy to start focusing on the 2010 season. While SMU fans have to wait until September to see how the Hawaii Bowl Champions follow-up their historic turnaround season, they can take comfort in knowing Ja'Gared Davis is ready to lead the stampede and take the Mustangs to the top.