Throughout fall camp and preseason practices, North Carolina coaches and players raved about the freshman wide receiver. His natural ability and unassuming attitude endeared him to older teammates as well as the coaching staff. Fans were not as aware of the young Davis, but it did not take long for them to notice the Gaffney, S.C. product.
His first catch as a Tar Heel came in The Opening game of the season against Elon. Quarterback Bryn Renner threw the ball down the right sideline inside the 10-yard line. A Phoenix defender tipped the ball, but Davis kept his eye on the ball and reeled it in while falling backwards after a tip of his own. The highlight catch introduced Davis to Tar Heel fans and demonstrated his tremendous talent.
The emergence of Davis (15 rec, 210 yards, 2 TD) could not have come at a better time for the North Carolina offense. The high-tempo spread offense of head coach Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson demands at least five receivers capable of contributing. Seniors Erik Highsmith and Jhay Boyd were the only known entities among the wide receiving corps entering the season and injuries to Boyd, T.J. Thorpe and Reggie Wilkins further depleted the depth at receiver.
“It was an issue going into camp, we’ve had injuries all along and for a true freshman to step up and play like he’s playing, that’s a rarity,” Anderson told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s a surprise. Just his ability to be competitive and make big plays at the right time has helped us. The last couple of games we’ve gotten some plays from him that we weren’t getting in the first couple of weeks and it’s helped us move the chains and score in some situations that we weren’t scoring in before.”
Davis is the Tar Heels’ leading receiver over the past two weeks, catching a combined nine balls for 137 yards against East Carolina and Idaho. He scored his first two career touchdowns last week against the Vandals, both 35-yard receptions. The first pass came from Renner and the second from Marquise Williams.
“It felt great,” Davis said. “I finally got the monkey off my back. All the older boys are starting to get up off me now so it felt good to get it over with.”
Both touchdown passes displayed the raw ability and talent that has the freshman’s coaches and teammates excited. Davis was not wide open on either throw, but both quarterbacks trusted him to go up and get the ball. The freshman was able to position himself to not only catch the ball but also break away for the touchdown.
“He’s a young guy who came in, worked hard and he’s very humble,” senior guard Jonathan Cooper said. “That’s the thing that I like about him the most, but he can go up and get it, sure hands and he has deceptive speed. I thought he was just going to be one of those kind of possession receivers, but he has some really good hands and some good speed which was surprising to me.”
While talent is vital to play wide receiver at a high level, especially as a true freshman, what sets Davis apart is his understanding of the playbook. The spread offense is new to everybody on the team, not just the freshmen, so the entire offense was on the same playing field entering the season. Davis saw this as an opportunity to play early on in his career.
“It was exciting,” Davis said. “I knew we were going to a spread so I had a good chance of getting on the field, so I just embraced the opportunity.”
Just five games into his rookie campaign, Davis understands concepts many players fail to recognize until later in their college careers. According to Fedora, Davis comes to the sideline and is asked to describe the different coverages and situations the defense presents. When Fedora goes back and watches the game film he finds that Davis is typically spot on with his explanation of the defense.
“He’s really seeing things at the speed of the game and that’s a good thing, because there are a lot of freshmen that will tell you something and you go back and look on the film and it’s nothing like that and you know they’re still a long way away,” Fedora said on his weekly radio show on Tuesday. “So for Quinshad the game is starting to slow down for him.”
Hakeem Nicks and Dwight Jones rewrote the North Carolina wide receiver record book over the past six seasons. Tar Heel supporters are certainly not going to forget those two All-ACC performers anytime soon. However, given the natural talent of Davis, as well as his understanding of the game at a young age, the freshman has the potential to work his way into the conversation.
“I think he’s still got a lot of improvements that are ahead of him,” Anderson said. “I think he’s really just on the verge of what he can be. I’m excited for him and for us too, because it creates a weapon for us… I think he’s got a lot of football ahead of him. I think he’s going to be a really good player. I think he’s good now, but the sky is the limit for him and he works in a manner that allows him to improve.”
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