LOS ANGELES -- Justin Davis certainly didn’t bother wasting any time this past spring. Arriving at USC in January as one of seven early enrolling freshmen for the Trojans, the highly touted tailback out of Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln arguably was the revelation of spring practice.
With veteran ballcarriers Silas Redd, Tre Madden and D.J. Morgan all limited at times, Davis took full advantage of the extended opportunity to put his talents on display, showcasing a no-nonsense rushing style marked by a perfect blend of power and speed that quickly had USC coach Lane Kiffin singing his praises.
Still, even Davis was a bit taken aback when he found himself sitting atop the post-spring depth chart along with Redd -- the team’s leading rusher in 2012 -- and Madden. But rather than letting the boost in confidence get to his head, Davis instead used it as a source of motivation this summer.
“I was surprised when the depth chart came out, and in the end, it’s really made me work just that much harder this summer, because I’m right there,” Davis said after a recent workout on campus. “It’s pushed me that much harder, and it makes me want to work really hard this coming fall camp with the idea of staying right there and hopefully getting the No. 1 spot.”
And with that starting tailback job up for grabs, the focus with which Davis has attacked his training regimen has only intensified as the summer has progressed, a fact made clear during the Trojans’ recent volunteer passing sessions on Cromwell Field. Increasing his workload dramatically during the team’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills over the course of the last three weeks, he’s worked hard to get himself into the best shape possible for the start of fall camp, set to begin this Saturday.
“I really used the summer, because this is a time to get a couple of things down and to clear my mind before we get back to it,” said Davis, who currently stands 6-foot-1 while weighing in at just under 200 pounds. “I’m working on the little things, especially the things that I struggled with in camp, like just knowing all of my pass protections. I really got into the playbook, and I worked on my footwork ... just little things that have helped me to refine my game. I’ve been trying to get into that game mode, getting used to getting carries in the backfield again so I’m prepared for camp.”
It’s a good thing too, because Davis has a tall task ahead of him. Part of a highly talented tailback unit that includes not only Redd, Madden and Morgan, but also Javorius Allen -- a star of the spring -- and incoming freshman standout Ty Isaac, he’s set to take part in what figures to be one of the fiercest position battles at USC. Rather than feeling any element of pressure, however, he’s looking forward to a competition that he believes will only elevate his game in the long run.
“We’ve got Tre, we’ve got Silas, we’ve got really great backs up and down the group, and they’re just going to push me that much harder, and it’s going to be a really intense competition,” Davis said. “I’m definitely going in with a mindset to come in there, work, and do some big things.”
Of course, Davis readily admits that he wouldn’t be in the position that he currently is without having received a little help along the way, particularly from USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson, as well as veteran players such as Redd. But it was the experience of participating in spring ball after graduating from high school a semester early that has had perhaps the greatest impact on his development.
“That was really big,” Davis said. “I was a little skeptical at first, but it has just been a tremendous help for me. I didn’t get all of the plays down until the last week of spring, and I can’t imagine coming in now and not knowing what I know. This is when the real battles start, during fall camp. I would be lost. Now I actually know what I’m going into. I’m definitely coming into camp with confidence, because I actually know where I have to be and I know what I’m doing. I can play that much faster because I know what I’m supposed to do on the field.”
After a summer of tireless work that came directly on the heels of an eye-opening spring, Davis is in the perfect position to make an immediate impact for the Trojans in 2013. And while he still has a whole lot more to prove in his first go at fall camp, he appears to be more than up to the challenge.
“They say that the spring is just a little preview, but fall camp is the real deal because we’re getting ready to play the real games,” Davis said. “It’s exciting because you can focus on just football, because there’s no school. We can dedicate those three weeks before Hawaii entirely to football. I’ve been jacked this whoIe summer and I just can’t wait.”