Sitting in a dark hallway in the bowels of the Georgia Dome, stripping sweat soaked tape off of his wrists; Jarrad Davis knew this couldn’t be it. The Florida Gators had just been blasted 29-15 in the SEC Championship. The defense gave up 25 first downs, 437 yards and more than 230 on the ground. Davis had a group of reporters around him, while Alabama was picking confetti out of their hair on the turf behind him.
This couldn’t be it. He had to come back to Atlanta.
“The way that we walked out of that locker room at the end of the night was difficult. I walked away wanting more,” Davis said. “I don’t think it would have been a good situation for me to leave the University of Florida still wanting more as a Gator.”
Growing up in Georgia, Davis had played on the Georgia Dome turf before. He won a state championship as a freshman there and opened seasons in the Dome. It was a homecoming for him. “The same locker room I was in for the SEC title was my high school locker room for the state championship,” he said. The feeling leaving the locker room this time around was different.
With the decision to come back to school cemented in his mind, Davis needed to take the next step in his development. He needed to become more of a leader. Davis is one of the more thoughtful, genuine and well-spoken players in the locker room but he has a different mentality on the field.
“To the team, to the defense, to Gator Nation, I’m ready to give my all,” Davis said. “I go to work every day and I say, ‘I’m going to give everything I have today.’ I’m going to give away everything I’ve got in the tank.”
Davis says he isn’t a rah-rah guy, but he knows that his teammates look to him as a leader. He can be vocal when he needs to be but he prides himself on doing the right things on and off the field, a “show me, don’t tell me” type of attitude.
He returns to Florida as one of the elite linebackers in the SEC and in the country. Davis could very well turn himself into a high draft pick with a good season, but he knows that there are still holes in his game. NFL.com recently wrote that Davis is a wild tackler that lacks consistency. Lance Zierlein, the author of the scouting report, wrote: “One area of concern for Davis is his inconsistency as a tackler. Davis’ speed and aggressiveness have to be harnessed when he’s on the move and he has to cover ground with more patience to avoid overrunning potential tackles.”
That critique was brought to Davis’ attention on Monday afternoon and the linebacker didn’t shy away from it.
“That was a real statement someone made about me this offseason, and something that really kind of shocked me a little bit,” he said. “When I’m on the field, it’s like, ‘See ball, hit ball.’ I went back and looked at tape and tried to take into account what they were saying, and realized I’m going to the ball with such a tenacious mindset that I do overrun a lot of plays. I do miss a lot of tackles because I’m out of control.”
The self-awareness and maturity to see a critique or criticism, internalize, embrace, study and realize that it is an area where you could improve is a strength Davis has. His maturity is needed on a defense that loses veterans in Vernon Hargreaves, Jon Bullard, Antonio Morrison and Keanu Neal. Davis, along with Marcus Maye are the senior leaders on a defense that intends on continuing a reign of stinginess in 2016.
“I feel like we can be just as good,” Maye said of the 2016 Gator defense. “Last year it was fun, and I feel like with the guys we’ve got this year, we can be just as good. Throughout the depth chart our talent level is just as good as last year.”