Sept. 13, 2013
Marcus Davis catches his first career pass for a touchdown in last Saturday’s victory over Arkansas State (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Freshman slot receiver Marcus Davis raced to the end zone and made his cut. It was third-and-16 last Saturday night at the Arkansas State 18-yard line on Auburn’s first possession.
As Davis turned, the pass from quarterback Nick Marshall was already coming at him with the speed of a fastball. He leaped high and snared the ball. The crowd of 85,000-plus at Jordan-Hare Stadium roared to life. It was Davis’ first catch as an Auburn Tiger, and it was a touchdown.
“It was a great experience,” Davis says. “I just kept God first, and I’ve been practicing hard since I’ve been here. It was so exciting catching it in front of all the fans. I knew I was in the read. I just ran my route to get open. By the time I looked back, the ball was already coming. He has great arm strength.”
As Davis’ teammates came to congratulate him, he thought of his father, Craig, back home in Del Ray Beach, Fla.
When Davis was in the eighth grade and already a budding football star, his father suffered a stroke. In those early, terrifying hours, Davis and his four brothers didn’t know if he would survive. But Craig Davis not only survived, his will to overcome inspired his family.
“All of us grew up together, just being around each other and motivating each other,” Davis says. “My dad, with his hard work and all the things he had been through, kind of pulled all of us together and motivated us. He inspired us all big-time.”
Craig Davis couldn’t walk or talk or speak immediately after the stroke. But he wouldn’t give in.
“I had to learn to talk again, walk and everything,” Craig Davis says. “It was tough. It was a tough time for us all.”
Craig Davis was in the stands for his son’s first game at Jordan-Hare. Last Saturday, he was watching on television. He cheered like he was there.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do when he got in the game,” Craig Davis says. ”I told him to work hard and listen to what the coaches are saying. It paid off for him.”
On the sideline, first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wasn’t surprised that Davis was ready when his chance came.
“He’s a natural,” Malzahn says. “He impressed us in fall camp. The moment is not too big for him.”
Davis started playing football as a 7-year-old. By the time he was nearing middle school, it was obvious to his father, his brother and his coaches that he had unusual talent. He was American Heritage High School’s starting quarterback as a ninth-grader. His older brother, Craig, was a senior wide receiver.
“My older brother has helped me so much with self-confidence and believing in myself,” Davis says. “I call him to this day and touch base with him. We used to always compete.”
At 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Davis knew as a high school senior that he would have to change positions in college. As signing day neared, he had offers from Arkansas, North Carolina and Wake Forest, among others. Most thought he was headed for Arkansas. But there was a hitch. Davis wanted to play offense. All those schools wanted him to play cornerback.
Enter Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, who saw Davis as a slot receiver. He came with an offer and, on Jan. 28, Davis accepted. Even a late offer from lifelong favorite Florida didn’t shake his commitment. He signed with Auburn on Feb. 6.
“It was near the end of the recruiting process,” Davis says. “I met with Coach Craig. They flew me up here on my official visit, and as soon as I got here, I felt the family atmosphere. It’s still the same way now. I knew if I kept working things would come. I just stayed patient, and Auburn came along.”
Davis arrived at Auburn in May and went to work. He had to learn to play receiver, and he didn’t have much time to do it. His work ethic on and off the field quickly attracted attention.
“I had lined up at receiver before, but not like playing it for an entire game,” Davis says. “This is my first time actually being a receiver. It hasn’t been that hard to learn. It helps that I played quarterback. I try to do what I wanted my receivers to do before. It helps big-time finding soft spots in the zone, trying to read coverages and knowing where the ball should be.”
Davis wanted to play early. He was determined to at least give his coaches reason to believe he could. But it happened faster than even he expected.
“I’m real competitive,” Davis says. “I play with a chip on my shoulder all the time. I wanted to play early, but I never imagined it would be like this. Just going through practice having a positive attitude about everything made a big difference. I knew, if not this week or even next week, my opportunity would eventually come.”
Saturday, he’ll embark on another new adventure. He’ll play in his first Southeastern Conference game when Mississippi State (1-1) and Auburn (2-0) clash at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Davis dreams of one day playing in the NFL, but he says that is not an obsession. He has a college career to play and a degree to earn.
“I’m pretty sure that is every college kid’s dream, but I just want to be able to be stable enough to provide for my family,” Davis says. “Honestly, I leave everything I accomplish and everything I do in God’s hands. I’m going to continue to work hard and let everything else fall into place.
“If we believe in ourselves and believe in Coach Malzahn and the program, we can do tremendous things.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: