Will Davis came to Kansas State with a highly touted high school career at one of Texas’ top programs.
As a high school senior, the linebacker led Southlake Carroll to an undefeated season and a state championship, tallying 176 tackles and 10 sacks on the way to earning Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011.
Three years later, Davis is set to start in his first game when the Wildcats host Stephen F. Austin on Saturday night at 6:10.
The 6-foot, 223-pound sophomore has done things the hard way. Or maybe the hard-work way, more appropriately. One way or another, Davis said he already feels like he’s been at K-State “forever.” His teammates see it the same way.
“He’s grown tremendously since he’s been here,” KSU senior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “Sometimes I forget that he’s only a sophomore. I feel like he’s just a year younger than me. He just seems like a guy that’s been here a while. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a hard worker, on and off the field, just a great guy.”
When Davis arrived in 2011, he came at the same time Arthur Brown was finishing his career as the best linebacker during Snyder’s second stint on the sidelines. Davis said he attached himself to players like Brown and Ty Zimmerman and tried to learn everything he could from the guys getting on the field.
“Arthur Brown was here and Ty Zimmerman, both, I learned tremendous amounts from them,” he said. “Last year, learning from Blake Slaughter was awesome for me. I’ve had some great people to look up to in my time here.”
Davis and Truman didn’t come to K-State on similar paths, but they have worked their way up to their starting roles in similar ways.
Truman found his way on the field as a freshman via special teams, and spent two years as a special teams darling before earning his starting role last season. Davis is making the leap from special teams after just one season, recording 16 tackles as a freshman.
Davis said playing special teams showed him just how fast the Big 12 really is.
Truman said there is a lot to gain as a defensive player by playing special teams.
“Special teams is huge in the game, there are people that just play special teams,” Truman said. “I was there for two years, I learned a lot. Just being able to read the flow of the ball and making quick decisions on when you’re going to trigger and go for the play. At any given time something can break.”
Breaking into the depth chart as a starting linebacker seemed to be a tall task this season. With Truman already locked down in one of the positions, only two spots were up for grabs.
On top of that, the Wildcats typically run a nickel defense that leaves just two linebackers on the field. With two heralded junior-college transfers at linebacker, that essentially left eight guys competing for two full-time gigs.
Davis said he thinks it’s pushed every linebacker in the mix to play at a high level.
“It’s made all of us better,” he said. “Competition breeds excellence. As a linebacker group we’ve had to come in, everyone has had to bring their ‘A game,’ every day. It’s made everyone better, leaps and bounds better than what we were, even from the spring.”
Davis describes himself as a player with good instincts and quick movements side-to-side. He’s a believer in earning your way through hard work, and spending plenty of time studying in the film room.
One way or another, it’s seemed to pay off for him. He’s gained the attention of his coaches and found his way into the depth chart as a starter.
“He’s a tough, young guy,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He’s a young guy that’s intelligent about the game. He learns the system extremely well, a very responsible young guy. You’ve got to have people at that position that get where they need to be, doing what they need to be doing, it’s a self-discipline aspect of it and he has that.
“You don’t get Will out of position very often. You know you’re always going to get the best effort out of him.”