E. Diddy, now 'The Deuce', ready to bust loose

"Last year I knew I wasn't going to get to play too much," says Erik Davis, Vanderbilt's explosive wide receiver and punt returner from Ezell-Harding High School in Nashville. "This year I'm going to get a chance to actually get on the field and prove myself."

NASHVILLE-- The first thing you notice that's different about Erik Davis is his number-- the explosive wide receiver and punt return specialist from Nashville has changed from No. 82 to No. 2, his old high school number.

Why the change, Erik?

"I don't know... maybe that '8' on my jersey was a little heavy," he jokes.

The second thing you notice is his effervescent sense of humor and self-assurance. A single-digit number like 2 is bound to draw attention-- but that won't bother the gregarious Davis in the least. Davis was never one to shy away from a little, shall we say, exposure.

"It's time for me to prove myself," he says, suddenly turning heart-attack serious.

If all goes as planned, exposure is exactly what he will get in 2003. Davis appears to have nailed down a starting wide receiver spot opposite the shy, reserved Brandon Smith-- which makes for quite an odd couple. Davis' personality, by contrast, is as flashy as his moves on the field, which makes him a constant target for nicknames. The man formerly known to his teammates as "E. D." or "E. Diddy" is now ready for a whole new slew of monikers.

"Deuce... No. 2... Two-man... whatever goes with [his new number]," he laughs.

Labeled a can't-miss prospect out of local Ezell-Harding Christian, Davis failed to live up to some fans' expectations as a true freshman in 2002. Forced into spot duty at wide receiver last year behind veterans Dan Stricker and M. J. Garrett, and sidelined for five games with an injury, Davis never registered a reception. But the 6-2, 188-pounder did occasionally get to show fans his moves on punt returns, most notably a breathtaking 34-yard return vs. Connecticut.

"We had two veteran guys step down, so that means some other guys have got to step up," said Davis of Stricker and Garrett. "We've got to go out there and make plays, and not have a dropoff."

Pssst.... don't tell David Cutcliffe and Ole Miss, but Davis has all the tools to become a gamebreaker. He was one of the biggest bright spots of the Commodores' spring practice. He hauled in three receptions in the Black and Gold Scrimmage, including a beauty of a 39-yarder, the offense's longest play of the day. More importantly, he had his coaches raving afterwards about his effort over the course of the spring.

"I just got the system down a little better," said Davis, asked what made him more comfortable. "They said they wanted us to make plays, and that's what I did. I came in there and made plays.

"What the coaches really respect is consistency. I consistently gave them plays. There were a couple of people out [with injuries] in the spring, and I was able to stay healthy. That's all it boils down to. They just loved that I stayed consistent with it. I wasn't on one day and off another day. I just remained consistent in making plays."

After making a splash at punt returner in 2002, Davis will likely get the chance to field punts again in 2003. "They put you back there, and it's nothing but another touch," he says. "I just try to make something happen."

Is he concerned that the NCAA has taken away the "halo rule", which prevents would-be tacklers from penetrating an imaginary two-yard circle around the returner before the ball is caught?

"No, I don't think so," he says. "They generally outkick the coverage anyway on this level. You've just got to go in there, man up, and catch the ball and do something with it."

Davis and offensive lineman Adam Dossett will go down as the last holdovers from the Woody Widenhofer era. Davis publicly accepted scholarship offer from Widenhofer and Vanderbilt during the fall of his senior year, but Widenhofer's firing later forced Davis to rethink his intentions. For several weeks, Vandy's coaching situation and Davis' commitment were in limbo.

One of Bobby Johnson's first tasks upon replacing Widenhofer in Dec. 2001 was to contact and shore up the recruits already committed, including Davis and Dossett. Ultimately, Davis decided that if Vanderbilt would honor its commitment to him, he would make good on his pledge.

"My decision basically boiled down to me staying local," Davis says now. "Bobby Johnson wanted to honor the scholarship that Woody had offered me. I liked that. I like the way a man honors his word like that. He just attracted me from the get-go."

Vanderbilt's run-pass ratio was a run-heavy 65-35 in 2002. Davis-- as any receiver might-- hopes the Commodores will take a few more shots down the field this season.

"I don't know-- I'm not the O.C. [offensive coordinator]," he said. "But all receivers want the deep ball. If the coaches decide to do that, of course I'm going to be there to take care of it. We're going to play the game they've got designed for us, and have fun with it."

What's the greatest thrill Davis can imagine for himself this year-- making his first catch as a collegian? Making his first touchdown catch? Returning a punt for a touchdown?

Davis shakes his head-- none of the above, he says. "First game," he replies. Just wearing the black and gold and getting to play in the opener will be plenty thrill enough.

"That'll be the greatest thrill. Last year I knew I wasn't going to get to play too much. This year I'm going to get a chance to actually get on the field and prove myself."

Anything Davis lacks in big-game experience, he should make up for in self-confidence.

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