MADISON — It’s early on in his collegiate career, but true freshman Danny Davis has shown an intriguing ability to make plays.
In three games, the young wide receiver has caught only three passes. Yet, he is averaging 34 yards per reception. His first career catch against Florida Atlantic, in technically his first start in Wisconsin’s second game of the season, resulted in a 35-yard catch.
Then in what arguably was the play of the game on the road against BYU, quarterback Alex Hornibrook found Davis for a 50-yard gain. That catch late in the first quarter, in which he out-fought a BYU defender for the ball, flipped the field and sparked a six-play, 75-yard drive that led to Wisconsin’s first touchdown in a 40–6 win.
As the Springfield, Ohio, native has shown already, attacking contested balls is not a foreign concept.
“That’s just something I did in high school,” Davis said on Tuesday. “I loved the 50-50 balls, so I just go up there and try to focus on the ball, go and get it. Attack the ball, squeeze it, because they’re ripping at the ball, so that’s all you can do.”
What a throw bye Hornibrook to Danny Davis. Things looking good for Wisconsin. #Badgers pic.twitter.com/SVljobsYEi— Nolan (@nolankisting) September 16, 2017
Hornibrook completed 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns in Wisconsin’s third win of the year, breaking the school’s single-game record for completion percentage. Davis reeled in two of those receptions for 67 yards, showcasing an ability to battle, and win, against defensive backs.
“He’s a competitor, and one thing I’ve said 10 times—I’ll say it again—is that Danny and [Quintez Cephus], they fight for the ball,” Hornibrook said on Tuesday. “So when I put it up there, I know that they’re going to do everything they can to go get that ball, and that’s how you earn trust.”
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph noted both Davis and true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor have shown confidence and do not flinch when competing.
“In fall camp, we saw a guy that would make plays. He would go up and make a big catch or he’d get separation that was a little bit different,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “Watching him grow, he drew a couple of penalties in the one game [against Utah State]. Comes back in the next one, and he’s got a chance to make a couple of plays. Had to get through dropping a ball and had to bounce back.
“I think the more you play, the more experiences you have, I think the best of who you are will continue to come out.”
If there is a blemish on Davis’s early start, it may be the one “drop” during the BYU game on a second-down throw from Hornibrook in the second quarter. On a 3rd-and-9 the next play, Davis atoned for his miscue with a 17-yard reception to move the chains.
His quarterback coming back to him meant a lot to the first-year receiver.
“It was big for me, man,” Davis said. “It happened so fast. I just remember the ball hit the ground, and I was like, dang. I remember they called the play, and I had a dig so I wanted to make sure I got in my route, and he ended up throwing to me. I think it was third down, too, so it was pretty big for me, just keeping my confidence up there. Thank coach [Ted] Gilmore for that, too, because he could have pulled me out or anything like that, so I wanted to make sure I made that catch and got the first down.”
When asked about going back to Davis, Hornibrook actually shouldered some of the blame.
“That one that everyone is saying he dropped, I kind of threw him right into a hit. So when I threw it, I kind of look at it more as my fault,” Hornibrook said. “I knew that he could catch it and he almost did, so I didn’t even think that was his fault. I didn’t question him at all.”
Davis is only in his first year and already making an impact along with true sophomores Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor. The trio has caught 19 passes through three games, with Cephus second on the team with 10 and Taylor hauling in six.
Along with redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, there is potential for a special group of players with early game experience for seasons to come.
Davis, in displaying his maturity, knows they cannot be complacent with early success.
“It’s a bright future for us, but we just got to keep getting better,” Davis said. “We can’t just stay the same next year and the next year after that. We got to keep improving in our game, keep working on little things, working on our craft like our routes and stuff like that. This year, it’s a good start but as far as next year and the years after that, we should be getting even better, so I’m excited to see the future.”