ATHENS — It was a few days before the end of the Bulldogs 2016 football season, and Aaron Davis had a lot on his mind. He was graduating from Georgia, and as he and his family sat down to map out his future, there were three choices:
Come back and play his final year. Declare for the NFL draft and try his luck, as he put it. Or just take his degree and leave football behind.
The latter choice was quickly eliminated.
“I love the game too much,” Davis said. “That was probably a far shot for me.”
In the end, so was going pro. So on New Year’s Eve, Davis revealed via social media that he was coming back to Georgia for his final year of eligibility. That may have been met with more of a shrug, at least compared to the announced returns of other starters. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been.
Davis has started 30 games at Georgia, shifting between cornerback and safety. He’s smart, having already earned his finance degree. He can make plays, notching 2 interceptions and 1.5 sacks last year.
He’s sort of the forgotten man in Georgia’s secondary, a former walk-on who gets lost in the attention this spring, amid the high-profile secondary recruits (Richard LeCounte and Deangelo Gibbs.)
Georgia spring game will be a test
But it’s hard to see Davis not starting when the season begins. And he wants this to be the year he takes his game to another level.
“I want to sharpen up everything that I can, show that I can play multiple positions at a high level. Be out there and dominate guys and not just sustain,” Davis said. “I really be out there and be an impact player for the team.”
When Davis arrived on campus four years ago, it was just as a regular student. He wasn’t a preferred walk-on. He was just someone who had played high school football, been recruited by some SEC and ACC schools before tearing his ACL, and then decided to come to Georgia and try to walk on to the team.
Initially, he made it as just a walk-on, but he was basically just an extra body at practice during the 2013 season. Then the defensive staff was overhauled, and new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt almost immediately pinpointed Davis as someone who could help. Davis had length, and with the lingering effects of the knee injury going away, he showed off more of his athleticism.
So he became a starter and instantly made an impact, picking off a pass against Clemson in his Georgia debut. Davis has been on scholarship since that year.
Working to become UGA’s 1st-team safety
On the field, Davis is working as a first-team safety this spring, next to fellow longtime starter Dominick Sanders. But Davis said he’s also working at other positions, as the coaches mix and match and try to find the right combinations. Davis’ versatility is important, because if LeCounte or Gibbs (or junior Jarvis Wilson) emerges at safety, Davis could move down to nickel back. Or he could move to cornerback if they decide to move someone there.
“They know the whole defense. They know everyone’s positions,” rising junior cornerback Deandre Baker said of Davis and Sanders. “So when you don’t have a good idea on something they’ll help you out. So it’s good having those two veterans back there.”
Off the field, Davis has his finance degree, but also has interests in engineering, math and other similar areas. He hasn’t decided whether he’s going to play this fall as a graduate student or while pursuing a second bachelor’s degree. This semester he’s taking a couple classes towards another bachelor’s.
Davis said he’s never felt like he was looked at as a mere walk-on. Especially since he hasn’t been one in awhile.
“Very early on I felt like it was more of being accepted by the players, more than the coaches, and that my play on the field would actually dictate whether I could play or not,” Davis said. “I always wanted to put myself in a position where no matter what, how they know me, or how they know who I am, how I played on the field they wouldn’t be able to deny me.”
G-Day is scheduled for April 22. Georgia’s spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET and will be televised on SEC Network.