Kyle Davis (Photo: 247 Sports)
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — With more than 6,000 rabid Georgia football fans in attendance on Saturday night, with the eyes of the nation tuned in through ESPN2, you would have thought the No. 10 Archer Tigers (2-0) would have been able to find a uniform to fit its star wide receiver.
And yet, with the spotlight as bright as it gets on sleepy Lawrenceville, 30 miles outside of Atlanta, there was 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior Kyle Davis’s red-and-white No. 11 stretching only halfway down his midsection, revealing a strikingly sculpted stomach.
Archer athletic director Tim Watkins offered this defense of his school and its student-athlete: “If I had abs like that, I wouldn’t even wear a shirt.”
Between his exhibitionist tendencies and his recent commitment to and de-commitment from South Carolina, Davis might come off as a stereotypical look-at-me receiver. But, believe it or not, that’s where the flash of the country’s top-ranked wideout recruit seems to end.
Sure, Davis obliged the national television audience with a pair of SportsCenter grabs for 40-plus yards apiece in the Tigers’ 26-10 drubbing of fellow regional power Peachtree Ridge in the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff. Despite facing off against Peachtree Ridge’s three-star tandem of defensive backs, Ray Buchanan Jr. (committed to Arkansas) and Chad Clay (University of Georgia), Davis caught seven passes for gaudy 104 total yards. He also returned kickoffs and punts, and even lined up at tailback for a couple of carries.
But his coach, Andy Dyer, insists that it’s what Davis does away from the cameras that makes him a special player. It’s the work in the weight room (not just those chiseled abs); on the practice field, focusing on blocking and footwork as well as highlight-reel hands; and in the film room, absorbing routes and opposing coverages.
“As a player, you can never stop learning,” says Dyer. “He’s got a real hunger to learn.”
There is also a selflessness that’s on full display for anyone who cares to look away from the ball. During the game against Peachtree Ridge, Davis never took a play off, running his routes at full speed and hitting his blocks. And when a teammate scored or made a play, be it a game-breaker or just a solid routine tackle, Davis sprinted to be the first there to congratulate him.
When asked where this work ethic and maturity comes from, Davis pointed to his parents. His father is a former college track star and current middle-school principal in Chattanooga who sees him every weekend. Davis lives near Archer High School with his mother, who has inflammation of the spine and has been confined to a wheelchair since Davis was 3 years old. With the community’s help, she still manages to make it to almost every game to watch her son play.
“She’s my inspiration,” said Davis. “She’s the strongest person I know.”
Perhaps it was his youthful dreams of making it to the NFL to take care of his family that led to his hasty commitment to South Carolina before his junior year in 2014, a decision he said he made without considering the bigger college picture, particularly academics. He said he wants to major in sports medicine — not because of personal experience with the trainer on the sideline, but because of growing up accompanying his mother to weekly physical therapy sessions.
“I always thought the way they were helping her was really cool,” he said. “Now I really want to help people.”
RELATED: Archer moves to 2-0 with victory
The Gamecocks are still on the table, Davis said — along with just about every other college with a football program. As a sophomore, his first year as a full-time receiver, the former quarterback and running back caught 11 touchdowns. Last year, he pulled in nine TDs and tallied 1,184 yards receiving while helping Archer to an 11-win, Class AAAAAA state runner-up finish. ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said that while there are players who can run a straight line faster than Davis — ranked No. 31 in the latest ESPN 300 — few possess his size, strength, and assortment of tools. “Davis is a difference maker,” said Luginbill. “The complete package.”
The schools Davis has been most frequently associated with are SEC rivals Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee. But, mindful of jumping to decision again, he says he has not made up his mind, and probably will not do so until shortly before he announces on Oct. 23, Archer’s homecoming.
If the weight of that decision is wearing on the 17-year-old, it doesn’t show on the field even as rumors swirled in the last month that he was a silent commitment to Georgia. For those grasping for hints, he was wearing Georgia gloves Saturday night, although Georgia and Archer do have the same colors.
During warmups on Saturday, Davis was shouting and dancing, setting a loose tempo for is teammates before the TV cameras descended. During the game, he practically skipped to his position, bobbing his head to the pep-band brass-and-thump even as he stood in formation.
He said it hasn’t yet kicked in that this is his last year of high school, his last season on this turf, in those locker rooms, and in this ill-fitting red-and-white uniform.