All about Lavel Davis Jr.: How UVA found him, and will they just throw it to him more already?
I was all set to write this detailed story about Virginia sophomore wideout Lavel Davis Jr., who was scheduled to be among the wide receiver group interviewees on Zoom on Tuesday.
Then, we didn’t get him.
Schedules change. Life happens.
All the great quotes on the 6’7” phenom from coaches, players, rendered worthless.
Because, you can’t write a story about a guy without quotes from the guy.
Against the rules of sports journalism.
Sorry. I’m doing it anyway.
I did all this work already.
OK, here goes.
First, to how they found him.
“Shane Hunter had the South Carolina area, and he was like, man, I’m telling you, there’s a kid you need to go see, like, I’m just telling you, you need to go see him,” wide receivers coach Marques Hagans said in our interview with him on “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show” with Chris Graham on Sunday night.
Shane Hunter is the safeties coach on the UVA staff, but every assistant has additional responsibilities in recruiting, dividing the country up into regions.
Hunter had seen Davis at Class AA Woodland High School, sort of on the hinterlands of the recruiting trail.
“He’s out in the country, he’s off the beaten path, very small school. Shane kept texting me, did you see him yet? Did you see him yet? And I’m like, man, this dude better be something special,” Hagans said.
Davis was so far under the recruiting radar that the only other schools with even a passing interest were Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Tech and Liberty.
Which itself could present an interesting quandary. In recruiting, you can sometimes let yourself think, looking at the other schools in play, are we the only ones who see how good this kid can be, or are we the only ones missing what seems obvious to everybody else?
“When he came through the door, I was like, holy crap,” Hagans said. “He was, I mean, he was tall, and when you got a chance to talk to him, he was so beyond his years, not even just with football, but just maturity, how he carried himself. He was a really good student, he was already goal-oriented. Came from a really good family. Coach loved him. Community loved him.
“When I saw him, I was like, Oh, my God. And he’s been everything that we’ve expected so far,” Hagans said.
The odd pandemic year helped the staff keep Davis under wraps. In a normal summer, media types are around for limited access to practices and post-practice scrums with players and coaches.
It would have been hard not to notice the giant wideout and do their thing to tip everybody off about what Virginia had added to its offensive arsenal.
Heading into the start of the 2020 season, the only thing that stood out about Davis was the 6’7” beside his name on the roster.
The opener, against Duke, was one for the ages. Davis had four catches on eight targets for 101 yards and two TDs in UVA’s 38-20 win.
Now all the sudden, you’ve got a speedy 6’7” guy with at least six or seven inches on the cornerback across from him.
Barrels of ink would have been expended in the good old days to sing his praises.
The interwebs sure were hot and firing.
This is game-changing. Literally, defensive coordinators have to game-plan around Davis. Coverages need to roll over to help overmatched corners with either a linebacker under or a safety over the top.
Which should open things up for other receivers, tight ends, the run game.
The numbers would suggest that offensive coordinator Robert Anae focused on the other things that Davis being on the field opened up.
Davis averaged 25.8 yards per catch in 2020, the only problem being, he only had 20 catches, on just 42 targets.
That’s 5.3 targets per game.
Expect to see that number go up in 2021.
“It’s pretty simple. You need to throw it to him more,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “As soon as he goes in, lines up, he’s already open, because there’s no corners that are 6’7”, at least not that I know of.
“I thought he had a very strong first year, I really did. And so as he keeps going, that just means more opportunities. That’ll happen this spring, it’ll happen in the fall. But the easy answer is, yeah, we just got to throw it to him more. And even if someone’s on him, really, so what, you know, they’re 5’10”.
“I mean, there’s more balls that in the 50/50 category that go his way, and we intend to do that. But again, not just for the sake of, but because of the hype, but he was showing enough capability in production as the season went on, where he’s warranted considering now the ball going there more frequently,” Mendenhall said.
It should help that Davis and starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong have the spring, summer and training camp to build rapport that was hard to build in the pandemic year.
Mendenhall is also high on the team’s run game, which he thinks is poised for a breakthrough in the fall.
The more things that a D coordinator has to think about, the less the poor guy can scheme to take away a difference-maker like Davis.
So, there’s that.
And then there’s what the folks in Bryant Hall have to say about Davis’s work ethic.
Mendenhall mentioned a couple of times that Davis is “earning trust” from his teammates and coaches.
Then there’s this story from Terrell Jana, who was in Charlottesville last week for UVA’s Pro Day.
“I mean, besides just the 6’7” freak athlete that he is, I think the thing that sticks with me is just his willingness and his eagerness to get better,” Jana said. “For a first-year, especially, in the fall, to seek out help and to seek out extra work is pretty rare. That wasn’t my first … I had to learn that going into the spring in my second year.
“For him to have that now, for him to sink his teeth into the process, is something that, regardless of his height, that’s what sets him apart, that’s what’s going to make him special. That alone, his willingness and eagerness to do extra and to do more and I’m super excited to be here, he’s someone special,” Jana said.
“I think Lavel has a bright future,” Hagans said. “God willing, he stays healthy. He’s very humble, he works hard. He’s one of the first people to the building every morning. He listens. I think the sky’s the limit for him. He’s got a little bit of advantage by being 6’7” and having some athletic ability. But what people don’t see on a day-to-day basis is how hard he works.
“Because of his hard work and his consistency, I think it’s starting to garner the respect of his teammates, not just like, oh, he made a big play. It’s like, that’s who Lavel is. He works hard. I think that if he stays on that path, consistently, doesn’t read his own press clippings, I think he has a chance to become really, really good, and be one of the best to ever play here,” Hagans said.
Story by Chris Graham