ATHENS – Soon after the scoreboard clock reached :00, Yusuf Shakir knew he would be hearing from Reggie Davis. As Davis’ coach at Tallahassee Lincoln High School, Shakir knows better than anybody else how hard the Georgia receiver can be on himself. And when he saw that sure-fire TD ball go through Davis’ hands and bounce on the Neyland Stadium turf late in a one-score game in Knoxville, he knew Davis would be devastated.
So Shakir went ahead and reached out to his former star player. And he gave him what Georgia fans can only hope is sage advice that will benefit Davis this season.
“I told him we all have adversity; it’s just how we respond to it,” said Shakir, a native Atlantan who played college ball at Wisconsin. “I said, ‘look, you were on national TV when that happened. So basically you’re now set up to make a national impact on something else. When that level of adversity hits you, that’s the level of greatness you’re destined for.’”
Davis had already had a huge game when Greyson Lambert dropped back to pass on third-and-9 at the Georgia 44 with less than four minutes to play and trailing by a touchdown. Davis ran a deep post from right the side of the field and blew past defensive back Malik Foreman. Lambert hit Davis in perfect stride at the 5-yard-line. But the ball went right through his hands.
Never mind that Davis already had three catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns to that point. Forget the punt return he took in for a score. Davis was inconsolable after the 38-31 defeat, and he actually wouldn’t be the same for the rest of the season.
“It killed me last year,” Davis said. “You want to make that type of play, especially with the type of game I was having. I really should have caught it with my hands instead of trying to catch it with my body.”
It wasn’t the last dose of adversity Davis would have to swallow either. Later that month, he muffed a punt return inside Georgia’s 5 against Florida in Jacksonville. The Gators recovered in the end zone for an easy touchdown early in that game, and that seemed to set the tone in what ended as a humiliating 27-3 defeat.
Davis learned a lot from both incidents. One of the most painful lessons was that fans can mean, both your own and those of the opposition.
“I still get those tweets and pictures,” Davis said. “At first, it’s heartbreaking. But then you can’t let your past (bring) you down too much. You’ve got to let the past be the past.”
That has been the consistent message from Shakir. He reminded Davis of the successes he’d had at Lincoln, where he averaged 25 yards a touch. He reminded him of all the blessings he still had, like a fully-funded education and speed the likes of which rarely is seen. He reminded him that he has actually had a pretty decent career.
He also reminded Davis that he was young and still growing, both physically and mentally.
“We were actually hoping he would get redshirted when he first got up there, because he wasn’t the biggest kid and was young, just 17 years old,” Shakir said. “He’s still just 20 years old, still very, very young age wise. He won’t be 21 until December. But I think so far he’s had a great career. He’s been very, very dependable.”
That he has. Davis has played in all but two of Georgia’s 39 games since showing up on campus. In that time, he has returned 58 kicks and punts, caught 29 passes for 507 yards and scored three touchdowns.
And the Bulldogs will be depending on Davis again this season. He’s set to be in the Bulldogs’ first rotation of receivers and is expected to be one of the primary kick returners as well.
“He’s had a good camp,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “Reggie’s an experienced receiver. He’s got good burst. He’s playing really hard. He’s playing good on special teams. Reggie plays the game the right way and you appreciate that and the quarterbacks reward guys who play that way. He continues to do that well.”
Davis enters this final campaign intensely focused. He is one of the fastest – if not the fastest – player on the team and remains the best threat for getting deep down the field and behind the secondary.
And if you could hear the voice inside his head every time he runs a route, it’s telling him, “catch with your hands, catch with your hands.”
“That’s what I learned,” Davis said. “At practice, all I worry about is catching it with my hands.”
“His first goal is to make sure he’s going to get Georgia back on top in the SEC,” Shakir said of Davis. “He just wants to do whatever Coach Smart needs of him as a senior. It’s Coach Smart’s first year and his last year, so I know from talking to him he just wants to make sure he helps get the program back where everybody wants it to be.”