Can video game inspiration Avery Davis impact the real world for Notre Dame football?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Avery Davis isn’t actually depicted in the app-based video game that John Tomlinson invented and recently released in the Apple and Google Play app stores.

“Too many NCAA rules for that,” the longtime football coach said with a laugh.

But the Notre Dame junior was certainly an inspiration for the Quarterback Equalizer, a learning game primarily aimed at high school coaches to help them better dissect and disengage defensive schemes and coverages.

As breathtakingly athletic as Davis was when he played quarterback at perennial Texas football power Cedar Hill High where Tomlinson was his position coach, it was the cerebral side of Davis’ game and the way he learned that helped push the video game from concept to reality.

“On top of all that he’s incredibly competitive,” said Tomlinson, whose most recent coaching résumé addition was an internship with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. “If he could have been on the chess club, he would have gone 100 miles an hour doing that also.”

That tantalizing confluence of traits has led to a dizzying number of jersey numbers and position switches at the college level that might finally be leading to something lasting and impactful for both the 5-foot-11, 202-pounder and seventh-ranked Notre Dame (2-0).

He’s suddenly become the ultimate wild card for an Irish team that finds itself a two-TD underdog Saturday night against a team ranked four spots ahead of it.

That’s after Davis opened the 2019 season as a third-string cornerback.

Notre Dame clashes with No. 3 Georgia (3-0) in only the third-ever meeting between the two college football bluebloods, and the first clash between them staged at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. CBS (8 p.m. EDT) has the telecast.

Potential, though, finally met a window of opportunity last Saturday, and Davis climbed through it with a 59-yard scoring play in ND’s 66-14 pummeling of New Mexico.

In what looked like a running play from NBC’s odd/distant camera angle, but was scored as a pass from Ian Book, Davis took the short shovel pass on the misdirection play and outkicked the Lobos secondary on a sprint to the end zone.

“It was a little bit awkward,” Davis said of the shift back to offense after being moved to defense in the spring. “It took me a while to get back into the groove of things, but I was really humbled and grateful for the opportunity. I just wanted to take advantage of it.”

For that singular play, what it could engender, and the passion and patience Davis has shown since becoming an ex-quarterback, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly awarded Davis the game ball.

Perhaps a more pragmatic memento for both of them would be identifying which position the QB/wide receiver/running back/cornerback/running back-again represents his highest ceiling.

“He ran almost 23 miles an hour,” Kelly said Monday of Davis’ first career TD last Saturday. “We haven't had that since Will Fuller.”

In an NFL Combine or Pro Day setting, the now-Houston Texans wide receiver ran the fastest 40-yard dash time of a Kelly Era player — 4.32 seconds in the winter of 2016.

“We know (Davis) has elite speed,” Kelly said. “I think this has been much more about trying to find him playing time. We know his skill set. I felt that way when we moved him to defense, that he had the skill set.

“It was just getting him on the field and getting him an opportunity. And I think he has the best chance of getting those opportunities on the offensive side of the ball right now.”

If not for starting running back Jafar Armstrong’s abdominal tear in the first quarter of ND’s 35-17 season-opening victory at Louisville on Sept. 2, Davis still might be trying to climb the depth chart on defense. Kelly moved him days after the injury, during a bye week.

QB Book leads ND in carries with 23 and is tied with senior Tony Jones Jr. in rushing yards, with 127. The latter labored for 17 yards on six carries against New Mexico.

Davis instantly becomes the fastest running back option among Jones, sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, and freshman Kyren Williams. And he actually has more experience carrying the ball than any of them but Jones — 22 carries for 70 yards, all during 2018.

How that translates Saturday, though, can be anything from serving largely as a decoy, to a breakthrough offensive option.

“He’s always going to be a quarterback to me, because of not just his ability but his leadership, the way he leads,” Tomlinson said. “He commands respect, just based on how he acts.

“The moving around hasn’t frustrated him at all. He’s actually very upbeat. He feels very good about the situation he’s in, and he’s making the most of it.

“That’s one reason he didn’t have an issue with changing positions, because he felt like, ‘I don’t want to sit and watch it. I want to go be out there. If I can help and I’m the best guy at whatever they need me to do, then I’ll do it.’ And honestly, that’s always been his mindset.”

Even back in Cedar Hill, Texas, when Davis was a reluctant track and field standout.

According to Tomlinson, if you were a football player at Cedar Hill and weren’t on the baseball team as well, you defaulted to being on the track team. Most players just practiced through the week, though, for conditioning and to meet the minimum requirements.

Davis, although he didn’t particularly enjoy it, threw the shot put and discus, and ran legs on the 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 relay teams in meets as a senior. Earlier in his career, he dabbled in the 100- and 200- meter dashes, the long jump and the triple jump.

He did more than dabble on the football field.

As a senior in 2016, in Texas’ largest class (6A), Cedar Hill lost three games, but those setbacks came to Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, which finished No. 1 in the nation in USA Today’s final Super 25 poll, and twice to rival DeSoto, which finished No. 3 in the national rankings.

The second loss to DeSoto came in the state 6A Division II playoffs, 55-41, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In that game, Davis accounted for 572 of his team’s 574 yards in total offense. He threw for four TDs and ran for two.

Despite missing two games because of injury, Davis finished the year with 2,876 passing yards on 69 percent accuracy with 37 TD passes. He rushed 84 times for 369 yards and six scores.

“When we were warming up in walk-throughs, Avery would always be very loose and sometimes would mess around and catch balls one-handed,” Tomlinson said. “And I told him, ‘You better be careful, somebody someday might see that and want to move you to another position.’”

The time is now — again.

But maybe this opportunity will be the one that sticks.

“I’ve had three guys I’ve coached in my career where the kids push YOU also,” Tomlinson said. “Avery was one of those types of kids, just because he was a student. Not just because of the position of playing quarterback, but because he loved the game.

“He just had an approach to it. Calm. I enjoy coaching him, just because of his maturity. When you get kids like that, they do inspire you. That’s why he’s a part of the video game. I still think he has a great future ahead of him in the real world, too.”

Want access to all of our Notre Dame football coverage? Click here to become an ND Insider Premium subscriber today for 30% off our annual rate. Purchase an entire year's subscription for just $69. Subscribe now before this special offer expires.

Notre Dame’s Avery Davis (4) breaks free for a long touchdown catch during the Notre Dame-New Mexico NCAA Football game Satrurday, September 14, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
NDfbPractice040718_28.jpgAvery Davis (3) came to Notre Dame as an aspiring quarterback, but he has been constantly on the move to several other positions ever since.