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CARROLLWOOD — For all his speed and lower-body musculature, the county’s No. 2 rusher couldn’t sidestep the questions Tuesday.
In the coaches’ office, in route-running drills, in a pre-practice interview, they came head-on at Robert Davis: How’s the shoulder? …Hey Robert, if your shoulder hurts too bad for this, sit this one out. …What would it take to keep you sidelined against Admiral Farragut?
Davis’ responses to them all suggested he won’t even let team trainers — much less would-be tacklers — wrap him up Friday. That morning, Carrollwood Day’s three-way junior will consume his customary game-day breakfast of a sausage McGriddle, hash browns and orange juice.
Then, about eight hours later in the biggest game of the Patriots’ half-decade of existence, the sturdy junior will swallow any pain emanating from that sore left shoulder and press on.
“Nothing’s going to keep me sidelined,” said Davis, who refuses to reveal even the extent of the injury that prompted coaches to pull him in the second half of last week’s 47-10 romp of Shorecrest. “I’ve got all the offseason to rest.”
On a small-school roster teeming with two- and three-way guys, Davis is the most explosive — a Class 8A-caliber star on a 2A squad. Patriots coach Lane McLaughlin, a former Jefferson assistant, insists Davis could start for any large area public school at some spot.
“The only back I’ve ever seen at Jefferson better than him was Rashaun Grant,” McLaughlin said, referring to the ex-Dragon 1,000-yard rusher who went on to play at Georgia Tech. “He’s got (533 rushing) yards and he has only played in one second half.”
Hence the sprawling scrutiny over Davis’ health these days.
In what shapes up as a Class 2A, District 5 playoff elimination game, Davis’ presence in the 3-1 Patriots’ backfield — not to mention the secondary and special-teams groups — is critical.
In roughly a season and a half, he already has 2,056 rushing yards. In four games this year, he’s averaging 15.7 yards a carry with nine rushing TDs, 26 tackles and two pass deflections.
“If I had one word to describe him, it’s electric,” McLaughlin said.
An International Baccalaureate student with a 3.7 GPA, Davis (5-9, 160 pounds) transferred to CDS from Freedom before his sophomore year. Before that, he started at defensive back on consecutive Super Bowl teams for the Packers of the Tampa Bay Youth Football League.
Among his teammates: former Jefferson stars Andre Davis and Rodney Mills, who helped guide the Dragons to last season’s Class 3A state title.
“Kids recently will come up to me and be like, ‘Yo man, you’re not as good (as your numbers). It’s only because you’re doing it at a private school,’ ” said Davis, a Class A state medalist in the 100 meters last spring.
“And when I think on it, I’m like, ‘I actually played with most of these kids as a younger kid and I fared pretty well there.’”
Further validation has arrived in his mailbox. Auburn, Kansas, Stanford — Davis’ dream school — and Wisconsin have made overtures about Davis. McLaughlin says the Badgers have been on him “every day.”
What may not be evident to them on film or 40-yard dash sheets is Davis’ resilience.
Davis said he initially hurt his shoulder on a simple counter play two weeks ago against Northside Christian. The result, he said, was “instant pain” every time someone hit it.
The following Friday against Shorecrest, he ran for 103 yards on nine carries and had seven tackles before being pulled early in the second half.
“He put himself back in one time and I caught him,” McLaughlin said. “Plus, he was playing defense with that shoulder, tackling people.”
Uncommon valiance? The notion might make Davis shrug — if shrugging didn’t create such discomfort.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing a team like last week or a team of Admiral Farragut’s stature,” he said. “I’ve got to man up about it.”