Davis' trial by fire

Freshman defensive back yearns to prove his worth after a year of growth in UW program

Four months from his 19th birthday, Jameson Davis has already spent more than a year in the University of Wisconsin football program — a year that ran the gridiron gamut mentally and emotionally. Davis first stepped foot on campus in January of 2004, then only recently removed from Hamden (Conn.) High School, as a 17-year-old cornerback.

"The first thing that I learned is you have to be mentally strong to be at a program like Wisconsin," Davis said early this spring. "To be in a Division I program, to be playing Division I football you have to be mentally strong to handle all the practices, all the classes, all [the] new plays in the playbook, scouting the other team, having time to do film. You have to be mentally strong to get through all this."

Davis looks like a changed player this spring. He has dropped nearly 15 pounds since last spring and nearly 10 since the beginning of last season. Now 6-foot and 190 pounds, Davis has also made the transition from cornerback to safety this spring, serving as a third-string player at both strong and free safety.

Trimming down improved Davis' speed, which was a concern last spring. He ran a 4.58 and a 4.62 at UW's underclassman timing day in 2004 and struggled to keep pace with the Badgers' receivers in drills. After running a 4.48 and 4.52 prior to spring workouts this year, Davis has been covering more ground in the defensive backfield.

More importantly, Davis looks like he is having more fun this spring, with an added bounce in his step during drill sessions and whenever he gets on the field for scrimmages.

"I just feel a lot more comfortable on the field," he said. "I feel like things are slowing down. I first got here everything was just fast, fast, fast, fast. Now that I understand what I need to do when I'm on the field, when a guy is going to be helping me out, everything is a lot slower."

It has been a struggle at times for Davis. He came to UW riding the euphoria of the recruiting season, and entered spring practice as a 6-foot 204-pound cornerback with high hopes of earning quick playing time after being flung onto the second-team defense on a squad that would boast four seniors and two juniors among its top six defensive backs.

But when Davis' first fall camp rolled around last August, he was buried on the corner depth behind fellow freshmen Allen Langford, Jack Ikegwuonu in addition to the veteran top quartet of Brett Bell, Scott Starks, Levonne Rowan and Chuckie Cowans.

Said Davis: "It was tough going through [spring practice] being 17 years old and being away from my parents and all of my friends in the middle of the school year and doing college classes and high school classes within a few days of each other. Back then it really was.

"But once I started getting used to Madison and the people and everything it was no problem. I just was excited to be playing football here in Madison. It got to a point where I really couldn't wait anymore. I really wanted to prove to the coaches that in upcoming years they would get something out of me."

Davis said he was content with the move to safety, which has looked more permanent as spring has progressed. He is currently the Badgers' No. 5 safety.

For Davis, though, the biggest battle has not be learning the nuances of his position, but rather getting a feel for what it is like to be a major-college football player. At first he was not sure he was all that excited about it.

"My first semester, it was kind of weird because I really hadn't seen a game played at Camp Randall and I wasn't sure really what to expect," he said. "But I was still practicing and it was like I was practicing really with no view of what was going to be the future….

"I was blinded not really knowing if Division I football is all it is [made] up to be. But all that goes away within the first two minutes you are on that field [during a game], within the first two minutes you are in that locker room it is dead silent, you've got the blood flowing through your body and you are amped up. It just makes you want to work that much harder so you can actually get on that field."

Despite, or perhaps because of the struggles he fought through in his first year in the Badger program, Davis still feels that coming to campus a semester early was the right decision for him.

"It really was," he said. "I learned a lot my first semester, a lot of things not to do, a lot of things to do. That first semester really helped me mature to where I need to be now to put myself in a position to help the team out."

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