Austin Davis surprises many, not me…
Not to be overlooked in this most amazing of football seasons has been the emergence of former Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis as a solid-bordering-on-superb NFL starting quarterback.
His story is almost like a fairy tale. He signed a baseball scholarship at USM and then walked on the football team. He became the starter as a redshirt freshman and led the Eagles to 12 victories as a senior.
Still, he was undrafted, an NFL walk-on. He was signed by the Rams, cut by the Rams and signed by the Dolphins and released by the Dolphins and then re-signed by the Rams.
He began the preseason as the third team quarterback, trying to win a job. Last Sunday, he led the Rams to a 28-26 victory over the defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks. For the day, Davis completed 18 of 21 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns — with zero interceptions — for a rating of 128.6, which isn’t perfect but isn’t far from it.
For the season, he has thrown nine touchdowns, four interceptions and has a QB rating of of 94.3, which is ahead of guys named Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, among others.
Still, he’s been kind of under the NFL radar. Get this: Last week, he was checked for his ID when he tried to enter the Rams practice facility. The guard didn’t know who he was!
This is nothing new. True story: When Larry Fedora first got the USM coaching job, replacing Jeff Bower, I covered the press conference announcing his hiring and talked with Fedora afterward. The first thing he said was that he had to find a quarterback. I told him he had one, potentially a great one. He said: “Who?”
I said Austin Davis, whom I had heard about when he played quarterback at West Lauderdale and who had impressed as USM’s scout team quarterback as a true freshman.
Again, Fedora said: “Who is he?”
He found out.
Todd Kelly, who covered high school football for years for The Clarion-Ledger had told me Davis was the best quarterback in the state his junior and senior seasons at West Lauderdale, where he was better known as a big-time baseball recruit and pro prospect under legendary coach Jerry Boatner.
Overlooked by Ole Miss, State and USM, Davis was offered a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech, but opted for a baseball scholarship at USM.
Hall of Famer Corky Palmer, then the USM baseball coach, was worried about losing Davis to the Major League draft. Instead, he lost him to football.
For four years, Davis was the starter and the team leader. He was solid. He was one of those college players who handled himself like a pro. In the locker room, after a game, win or lose, he was the same guy: polite, well-spoken, and honest.
I can’t tell you how many times folks have asked me about USM football: What happened? As in, how do you go from 12-2 to 0-12 in one season. How do you go from 12-2 to 1-23 in two seasons?
There are many, many factors at work: Coaching changes, a couple of bad recruiting years, injuries. But the biggest difference between 2011 and 2012 was that USM didn’t have Austin Davis, who was not only an outstanding quarterback but a true leader, a coach on the field.
There will be those, including Corky Palmer, who always will wonder how Davis would have done had he stuck with baseball. Palmer believes he would have been a major leaguer, probably a power-hitting corner infielder. Indeed, Davis was drafted in the 31st round of the 2012 Major League draft even though he hadn’t played baseball for five years.
Think about that: He was drafted for baseball, but not for football. But Davis always believed he was an NFL-quality quarterback and football was the sport he loved most.
He is proving he was right.
He is surprising a lot of folks.
New Hall of Fame book, written by Rick Cleveland with a foreword by Archie Manning, will debut Thursday. Click here.