Football: QB Davis to teammates - 'Hold me to a high standard'
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 27, 2017
Early during UL’s 2017 training camp, first-year Ragin’ Cajuns offensive coordinator Will Hall was asked what he was told — when taking the job — about starting quarterback Jordan Davis.
Through a voice already hoarse from just a few days of preseason practice, Hall loudly laughed.
“Well,” he said, “a lot of different things.
“Some good, some not good,” Hall added without getting much more specific. “But the thing about me is I don’t judge. I just take things for what they are.”
That includes any and all opinions on his No. 1 QB.
“No offensive player on the team when I got here … I didn’t care what any of them had done in their past, whether it was good or bad,” Hall said. “I wanted to start a clean slate. I thought that was important. I thought it was important to start a new identity.”
So that’s what Davis became.
He no longer was the highly hyped signee from Klein Oak High in the Houston-area town of Spring, Texas.
He also no longer was the QB expected to win the job in UL’s 2015, only to lose it after Cajun coaches — seemingly uncertain if he was really ready for the bright lights — opted to bring in someone ahead of him.
He simply became Jordan Davis, candidate to start.
And after a spring spent with Hall, the tag Davis thought he’d have in 2016 — No. 1 Cajuns quarterback — is now his as a fourth-year junior in 2017.
UL head coach Mark Hudspeth notices a difference in the two, without a doubt, especially with "the way he takes coaching, the way he handles himself when he makes a mistake."
"Now he’s not so hard on himself. He plays the next play. He listens to coaching," Hudspeth said. "He wants to be better, and I think he really wants to be coached."
“He just wasn’t at the level of maturity that he is now," Hudspeth said. "I don’t know if he let the coaching part really sink into him.
"I think he heard you; whether he applied it was a different story. Now I think he really tries to apply the coaching you give him, where before it may have just went in one ear and out the other. So I think he’s really matured in that way. He wants to be really good."
Fourth-year junior Jordan Davis, shown here on the sideline as UL beat McNeese State last September, goes into the 2017 season as the Ragin' Cajuns' starting quarterback. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)
What's behind the transformation?
“One thing he’s done since I’ve gotten here is he’s really taken ownership of his past — all the good that came with that, as well as the bad,” said Hall, a former head coach at NCAA Division II programs West Alabama and West Georgia.
“It’s well-documented, the bad that he’s gone through. He has not had the career he’s wanted to have, or that a lot of people wanted to have for him. And for whatever reason, that happened to him. “Some of that’s his fault; some of that’s circumstances,” added Hall, who back in the day was Hudspeth’s quarterback at North Alabama.“But I’m getting him on the good side of that. He’s made it through that. We had a tremendous offseason.”
'THE TEAM BELIEVES IN HIM'
The past offseason really was a critical one for Davis, who threw 41 passes — completing 26 of them for 256 yards and a touchdown — in a reserve role in 2015.
Seven of those completions came during a late-game 7-for-7 series late that year at Appalachian State. Nineteen more came on 33 attempts when he threw for 196 yards and the TD while coming off the bench to play most of a season-ending loss to Troy, seemingly setting him up to start in 2016.
But then he threw just three passes — all in the same game, UL’s season-opening loss to Boise State — last year.
And that’s why the last several months appeared make-or-break for Davis.
He’s evidently made the most of them.
And that made the Cajuns feel good enough that they did not decide to again bring in a graduate transfer for a one-year fix, like they did when former LSU starter Anthony Jennings joined the team barely in time for the start of preseason camp in 2016.
“Leadership-wise he’s improved tremendously, even from the spring,” Hudspeth said. “The team believes in him. He’s got good chemistry with those guys.”
The leadership thing really is a big deal to Davis, who stayed at UL rather than chase opportunity elsewhere even after Jennings took the gig he thought was going to be his.
“I’m just trying to, each and every day, continue to lead, continue to be that good offensive leader to these guys around me,” he said, “and just be productive on the field each and every day, execute within the offense and do positive things each day.
“My biggest thing day in and day out is just to be consistent, and just make accurate throws, make positive gains each and every play, don’t ever take too big of a loss.
“So my thing,” Davis added, “is just be accurate, have great footwork and be decisive in what I’m doing and know where to go with the ball at that time.”
Davis acknowledges that in prior years “I’ve obviously been in a different position than I am now.”
Yet he’s tried to maintain, as challenging as it may have been at times, the same attitude.
“Just grinding,” Davis said.
If it all looks as good as it sounds won’t be known until UL plays Saturday night at Cajun Field against Southeastern Louisiana, a 2017 season opener that’s followed by road trips to Tulsa and Texas A&M.
Heading into the season, however, teammates seem confident Davis has this.
“He’s always had all the capabilities,” said UL’s top returning receiver, junior Keenan Barnes.
“It’s just that fine-tuning that he needed to work on, and he’s been doing that. He’s been a great leader, on and off the field.”
Senior offensive tackle Grant Horst feels similarly.
“I think he saw he needed to step up as a leader, as well as his performance on the field,” Horst said before camp began.
“So he’s really been outspoken, has been leading guys during workouts and OTAs (offseason training activities). That’s been really impressive, the way he’s grown the last year.”
Horst thinks back to 2016, and realizes Davis easily could have checked out with Jennings playing in his place.
“He didn’t put his head down, listen to outsiders, any of that,” Horst said. “He just went to work at trying to get better. He knew he had to get better for the next year.”
Even Cajun defensive coaches have noticed.
“What Jordan Davis has done — maturity — from when I first got here to now? Phenomenal,” said third-year UL assistant Mike Lucas, now the Cajuns’ defensive coordinator.
“It’s unbelievable. A different kid. A different young man. Grown up. Taking charge. Stepping up and talking to the team. The team respects him.”
It’s all as Hall planned.
“What we talked about when I first got (to UL last January) was, ‘Be great in the weight room every day. That’s all you can control right now,’” Hall said. “Then, ‘Be great in the offseason program with the running and conditioning. That’s all you can control right now.’ Then spring ball starts; ‘Be great in spring ball.’
“And then we’ll look up at the end of May. … All of a sudden you will have the clout, and the respect of your teammates, to do a little talking.’”
ONE OF THE PROBLEMS
Leading is one thing.
Doing is another.
Offensive lineman Horst, for one, likes what he believes Davis — billed by Hudspeth as “dual-threat” — is capable of in that regard.
Horst feels it can be a difference-maker for a team coming off back-to-back losing seasons, 4-8 in 2015 and 6-7 last year with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi.
“Something that’s been one of our biggest problems these past couple of years is we haven’t had really the most mobile quarterback, like we had when Terrance Broadway was here,” Horst said.
Ragin' Cajun quarterback Jordan Davis, show here during spring drills earlier this year, has won in 2017 the No. 1 job that evaded him last year. (Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)
The Cajuns went 9-4 with a New Orleans Bowl win in each of three seasons with Broadway as their QB, from 2012-14.
Neither Jennings nor UL’s primary starter in 2015, Brooks Haack, were nearly as fleet of foot as Broadway.
With his scrambling ability, the Cajuns suggest, Davis is capable of something neither Jennings nor Haack were known for during their UL days.
“He’s what we want: a guy that can spin the ball, but a guy that can get you out of trouble and a guy that can run the football effectively to help you win,” Hudspeth said.
“A guy like that that can run, that gives you a second dimension — he can extend plays, and get out of bad plays. So I’m anxious to see him continuing to develop.
Hudspeth is not alone.
Hall is Davis’ third offensive coordinator at UL.
“I think it’s tough, going through that, for Jordan,” Hall said. “But I think when you come out of it, on the backside of it, it makes you such a better player.”
First there was Jay Johnson, UL’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for five seasons before leaving in late 2015 for the same post at the University of Minnesota.
He’s now a quality control coach at SEC-member Georgia.
Then there was Jorge Munoz, who was elevated from receivers coach in 2016. He’s now back to being UL’s receivers coach.
Enter Hall, who hit it off — precisely how, he’s not quite certain — with Davis right away.
More: New Cajun coordinator
“I think sometimes — or I think all the time — God has a plan,” Hall said.
“He’s got his hand in things, and I think, for some reason, I was meant to coach him, and he (Davis) was meant to play for me.
“It’s been a great fit,” Hall added. “Now we’ve got to go out there and make plays, together.”
'HE'LL MAKE MISTAKES'
Hudspeth realizes Davis won’t be perfect.
“I don’t know many of them that are,” he said. “He’ll make his mistakes, just like the linemen are going to make mistakes and the DBs (defensive backs).
“But what he’s got to know is he’s our guy. I already told him, ‘First mistake you make, don’t look at me at the sideline thinking I’m gonna be hollering at you ready to take you out. You’re our guy. Be ready to roll, and we’re gonna get better as the year goes along.’”
The Cajuns coach feels Davis looks “much more natural” this year compared to last, and suggests he’s playing without thinking. Just a few days ago, Hudspeth praised not only the current strength of Davis' arm but also his overall "command."
“I think that comes with having a great understanding of the scheme in Coach Hall’s offense,” he said.
Hall, Davis said, is good “at teaching” his quarterbacks progressions.
“Now,” the UL QB said, “it’s just about making plays, and giving the receivers a chance to make their plays.”
Hudspeth is confident Davis’ decision-making will reflect that.
“He’s done, so far, a great job of going through his progressions, and then, when it’s not there, taking the ball and running with it, making some things happen,” the Cajuns coach said about week into camp.
“You’re not gonna just keep him in the pocket if everything breaks down. He can really change the game with his legs.
“He has improved his accuracy tremendously,” Hudspeth added. “I think he’s throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.”
It’s with all that in mind that Hall seems genuinely pumped to put the Cajuns’ new offense — plenty of targets spread wide, some sets with three wideouts and some even with four — in Davis’ hands.
No matter how his past may have gone.
“Again,” Hall said, “I think I’m getting him on the good side of if, where he’s been through a lot of tough times.
“He didn’t do what a lot of people do nowadays. You know, a lot of kids nowadays, when tough times hit, they just quit. … Nobody fights through adversity anymore. It’s just the way the world is. But he fought through it.
“And usually right after our toughest times,” the Cajuns coordinator added, “is when our greatest accomplishments happen.”
Related: UL quarterback Davis wins the job
Hudspeth hopes that's what happens, and senses it's what Davis wants too.
"He wants to be the quarterback that the Cajuns would be proud of," the UL coach said, "because he knows they thought a lot of Broadway and they thought a lot of (Broadway predecessor) Blaine Gautier.
"He wants to be that type of guy, that the fans think a lot of him."
But Davis doesn’t seem to mind.
He simply wants to do what some figured he’d already be doing around this time last year.
“Each and every day I feel like I have something to prove — definitely to my team, for sure; to my offense,” Davis said. “I want to continue to grow and progress each and every day, and I want them to hold me to a high standard, also, of being that guy who plays at a high level at all times.”