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USF's Davis opens eyes as he builds confidence

TAMPA - Andre Davis, the University of South Florida's sophomore wide receiver, is living up to his nickname. "Freak Show.'' "He can turn a 5-yard pass into an 80-yard touchdown,'' USF senior running back Demetris Murray said. "He's something special.'' "That name is perfect because he is an athletic freak,'' Bulls senior cornerback Kayvon Webster said. "He catches those balls between two or three defenders. People who are normal don't do that. He does things you've never seen before.''
Three games into the season – USF (2-1) travels to Mid-American Conference opponent Ball State (2-1) on Saturday – Davis already has 21 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace to do something never seen before at USF – a 1,000-yard receiving season. In fact, he could be bearing down on the school's single-season record (706 yards by Carlton Mitchell in 2009) by Halloween. "I came in here looking to make some history for our program,'' said Davis, who had 164 career receptions for 3,158 yards and 40 touchdowns during an All-American career at Tampa's Jefferson High, where he caught passes from Florida's Mr. Football, Quentin Williams. "I love doing this in the hometown. That means a lot to me.'' Even though USF's campus is a short drive from Davis' home, he already has traveled a great distance. Last season, he was a typical freshman, full of big moments, disastrous mistakes and the growing realization that this was different than high school. "He was like a deer in the headlights,'' USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "But in the last three ballgames, he showed flashes. He showed talents that would set him apart if he continued to work hard.'' He did. "Confidence has never been an issue with Andre,'' said Bulls receivers coach Jerome Pathon, a former college All-American and NFL player, who was hired by USF prior to spring drills. "When I met him, I met a confident guy. Andre exudes confidence. All the great ones do.'' Pathon studied film on Davis and was impressed with his ability to track the flight of long passes and leap for the reception. Then Pathon learned an interesting sidelight: Davis was a standout outfielder in baseball. "No wonder,'' Pathon said. "He can really locate it. And once he gets it, he has deceptive speed. He can pick 'em up and put 'em down with the best of them. His top-end speed is not something people mention too much, but it's there.'' "This is not a shocking thing,'' Webster said. "I remember one time in practice, he scored five touchdowns on our secondary. Five! And we were trying hard. So I've seen this before.'' Davis had an afternoon to remember in USF's 32-31 comeback victory at Nevada on Sept. 8, setting school records for catches (12) and receiving yards (191), along with his game-winning 56-yard touchdown reception from B.J. Daniels with 38 seconds remaining. Thursday night, in a 23-13 home loss against Rutgers to open the Big East Conference season, Davis had eight receptions for 84 yards. "He has made himself into an extremely reliable receiver,'' Daniels said. "He has been doing this since the spring. He's showing what he's all about.'' It's all about maturity or in Davis' wonderfully teenage description: "I'm a lot more age.'' "I'm a year older and I feel like I progressed a lot,'' said Davis, who needs just one catch to match the production of his entire freshman season. "I'm more confident in myself and more confident in our offense. I feel like I'm ready to get on a big stage. "I feel like I'm myself now. Now I just go out there and do my thing.'' For opposing defenses, it's getting pretty freaky.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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