GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a Florida offense lacking big plays and healthy bodies, Mike Davis' success is a painful symbol of what might have been.
When Davis and Matt Jones committed to be Gators only days apart in February 2011, many foresaw a "thunder and lightning" running back tandem. Jones, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound battering ram provided the thunder, while the speedy Davis would be the lightning.
Just a few weeks after he was hired as Florida's coach, Will Muschamp had scored a major recruiting victory and two very necessary puzzle pieces for his planned conversion to a pro-style offense.
Davis, rated by ESPN as the No. 6 running back prospect in the nation for the Class of 2012, had been one of the Gators' first commits in the class when he gave his pledge on Feb. 19, 2011.
Two years later, he's the SEC's leading rusher with 1,058 yards in nine games, a consistent and explosive force with 10 touchdowns (6.7 points per game).
The problem for Florida is he's doing it in a South Carolina uniform.
Jones, meanwhile, is out for the season with torn cartilage in his left knee -- another injured Gator in a season of mind-boggling pain, suffering and losses.
Imagining Davis in orange and blue is probably not something Muschamp has time to do these days. After all, a recruiting divorce that played out on Twitter and recruiting blogs two years ago is ancient history in the world of actual college football. But that behind-the-scenes drama could have an effect this Saturday night when Florida visits No. 10 South Carolina.
Davis was committed to Florida for almost a year. But the relationship soured, and he decommitted on Dec. 4, 2011.
"Sometimes stuff happens when you commit a year ahead," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said on Wednesday.
In the world of blue-chip recruiting, there are always two sides to every story. From Florida’s perspective, Davis simply changed his mind and saw a better opportunity elsewhere.
"He's a really good player, a guy we thought a lot of coming out of Stephenson [High School] there in Atlanta," Muschamp said this week. "He is having an outstanding year, certainly has been a huge difference in their run game. …
"Everybody makes their decision on what they want to do [in recruiting], and Mike felt like South Carolina was a better opportunity for him. I wish him well."
Davis' camp sees things a bit differently. Older brother James Davis, who starred at Clemson (2004-07) and played in the NFL, said the Florida coaches "kind of blew it" when they made a promise not to recruit other running backs and then did an about-face.
"I sat in [on the conversation] when they came in [for a visit]," James Davis said. "They said they were done at running back after they had [Mike] and Matt Jones. So I was there.
"It changed his mind because he felt that he was loyal, and those guys weren't. It kind of opened the recruiting process back up for him."
The player Florida went after was five-star running back Keith Marshall, who ended up signing with Georgia. The attention given to Marshall by the UF coaching staff stoked Davis' competitive fire.
"I think it was kind of a slap in the face, and Mike felt the same," James said. "He was committed to those guys, and he doesn't think they were committed to him. For the most part, he got over it. But I think it's still in his mind every time he faces off against Florida."
That much is clear. What happened in the past is over and done with for both parties. But for Mike Davis, the desire to beat the Gators on the field remains.
He got his first chance as a true freshman last season, visiting Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as he had several times when he was a commit. That day, the Gators unleashed a fearsome defense and crushed the Gamecocks 44-11. Davis was South Carolina's leading rusher with 24 yards.
A year later, Davis isn't the only Gamecock itching for revenge. But he might be the most motivated, as his tweets last Sunday can attest.
Never been so eager to play #hungry
— Mike Davis (@Mike28davis) November 10, 2013
"He came home [last] weekend during the bye week, and we got to talk about it," said James Davis, who plans to be in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday night. "I think he's definitely excited about this one the most because of the recruiting process, and I think he has a chip on his shoulder coming out this week. I think this will be the biggest chip of any game.
"I think it's almost kind of like a rivalry game to Mike. He's taking this one personal."