Notre Dame values experience and leadership of wide receiver Avery Davis
SOUTH BEND — When Avery Davis learned he would be a captain for Notre Dame’s 2021 football season, the first person he told was his mother.
The graduate senior wide receiver sent her a text message and she quickly responded with a phone call. She expressed the pride she felt in her son, whose career took more turns than most but still ended up with a captaincy.
When Davis came to Notre Dame as a quarterback recruit out of Cedar Hill (Texas) High, becoming an eventual captain seemed like a natural progression. But when Davis switched positions to running back and wide receiver, then cornerback and back to wide receiver, the goals had to change. His mother was along for the ride to help him through it all.
“I was a quarterback, so maybe that was on my bucket list,” Davis said of becoming a captain. “Along the way that definitely got lost. So then it was just kind of like find your way on the team, be a good teammate, graduate and make plays. Then this opportunity came.
“She was just really happy for me. It was a really lovely conversation.”
If there was a runner-up on the happiness scale for Avery Davis, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees might have taken the title.
“I can’t say this enough, ‘I love Avery Davis,’” Rees said. “You want to talk about a resilient young man. He has never complained once. He has done everything this program has asked of him. He was in my room four years ago.
“That kid, whatever he needs for the rest of his life, he has an ally. That kid is an unbelievable young man and to see his career go the way it has, to make plays in the biggest game of the year last year, to earn the respect of his teammates — where they’re voting him captain — that just speaks volumes about the type of person he is.”
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Those plays came in Notre Dame’s 47-40 double overtime victory over then-No. 1 Clemson last November. If not for two Davis receptions in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter — a four-yard touchdown to help tie the game two plays after a 53-yard catch and run — the Irish might not pull off the win.
Davis’ only other touchdown came in the season opener against Duke, but he proved to be a trusted contributor as the slot receiver. He finished the year with 24 catches (fifth on the team) for 322 yards (fourth).
Even though the 5-foot-11, 202-pound Davis has more career receptions (39) than any other two wide receivers on the Irish roster combined, the buzz throughout preseason practice has been focused on the senior quartet who have lacked a consistent producer at Notre Dame: Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr. They can all take a page from Davis finding relevancy late in his career.
“He's quiet in a sense that you don't hear him as a rah-rah guy, but he's the first guy to put an arm around a young guy,” Kelly said of Davis. “So he's been a great mentor. He's one that probably is the guy that we look towards as that consistent performer, and we want that standard to be across the board for all the receivers.”
Davis learned that standard from watching former walk-on Chris Finke develop as Notre Dame’s slot receiver before him. He’s confident his fellow receivers can show that same kind of growth.
“I know that being in here and developing is something that’s really going on with Notre Dame,” Davis said. “You develop so much. You get bigger, faster, stronger with (director of football performance Matt) Balis. You get the X's and O's in the film room. Then when you go out here and watch these guys compete, that’s where the most learning happens.”
Though Davis no longer has more experienced receivers to look up to on the roster, he’s been able to identify areas for improvement in his own game.
“I want to build on being confident in the field mid-play,” Davis said. “Understanding what the defense is trying to do to me. Understanding the soft spots — whether it’s a zone or if it’s a man coverage — and how I need to beat it. Rather than just running a route that’s drawn up on paper.”
The slate is clean for new starting quarterback Jack Coan, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin, so Davis could just as easily become Coan’s most trusted wide receiver. He has the advantage of knowing what Coan’s processing as a former quarterback himself. He has the speed to get open too.
Davis might not be faster than Lenzy or running back Chris Tyree, but he’s willing to put himself in the top five on the team and in a competition with anyone for third or fourth. That’s why Notre Dame never gave up on trying to find a new position to best utilize his ability.
Davis eventually found that position fit in the past two seasons. Along the way, he found his voice as a leader too.
“I was always the type of the guy to do things right because that’s the way I was raised,” Davis said. “Be on time, do things right, treat people with respect, things along that manner.
“I felt like my voice didn’t hold weight because I didn’t necessarily prove myself on the field, which we all came here to do to play ball. As the season went on, I felt more and more of that leadership role and then the spring came and I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is it. This is my time.’”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.