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Florida Gators’ Malik Davis rebounds from back-to-back season-ending injuries

Hillsborough County’s all-time leading rusher still feels a little rusty, but he doesn’t look like it from the sidelines.
Florida Gators running back Malik Davis (20) carries during the first quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M in 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Florida Gators running back Malik Davis (20) carries during the first quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M in 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published Mar. 26, 2019|Updated Mar. 26, 2019

GAINESVILLE — When Florida running back Malik Davis went to the sideline in the second quarter against Colorado State in September, all he knew is that his left foot felt funny.

Then the Jesuit High alumnus got the initial diagnosis — a broken foot that would wipe out the rest of his second season with the Gators.

“Not again,” Davis said.

Hillsborough County’s all-time leading rusher had just been through this 11 months earlier, when his promising freshmen year ended with a severe knee injury against Georgia. Now he was hobbling around, again, as the victim of a second consecutive season-ending medical issue.

The lowest point came that night, as he lay in bed in his room and considered another long recovery in front of him.

“I was just up thinking about it,” Davis said last week in his first interviews since the injury. “You know, you can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. That’s not going to do anything.”

Davis learned that firsthand in 2017.

The 5-foot-11, 191-pound Davis had been fairly durable in his four standout seasons at Jesuit. He missed two games with a leg injury as a sophomore and two more with a strained MCL as a junior, but that was it.

He responded impressively each time. He rushed for 166 yards and three scores in a win over Spoto High as a sophomore (despite only being at 80 percent), and he exploded for 200 yards and two touchdowns to beat Jefferson High as a junior.

Running back Malik Davis starred against Spoto, even at 80 percent, during his 2014 season at Jesuit. (Times 2014)
Running back Malik Davis starred against Spoto, even at 80 percent, during his 2014 season at Jesuit. (Times 2014)

But that didn’t help him as a freshman at UF. His hurt knee marked his first significant time away from the game, and it was admittedly an emotional blow.

Faced with another major setback the next season, Davis wouldn’t let himself get discouraged. He stewed for a day or two, then began focusing on his recovery —rehab three times a day, plus two or three workouts to get his body healthy again.

By January, Davis was back at 100 percent physically, and he’s practicing without restrictions.

“It’s good to see him back healthy,” coach Dan Mullen said. “He looks like he’s playing confidently.”

From the sidelines, he looks the same way he did before the injury. His quickness and explosiveness are still there, and he hasn’t been timid with his cuts or contact.

Malik Davis got to celebrate with his Florida teammates after destroying Charleston Southern in last season's opener. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Malik Davis got to celebrate with his Florida teammates after destroying Charleston Southern in last season's opener. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

But when Davis watches himself, he sees a little physical and mental rust.

“Each time I come out here and we’re warming up, I feel anxious just to come out here and just play because I haven’t played football in a long time,” Davis said. “Every time we come out here to practice I get excited.”

UF’s depth chart gives him another reason to be excited.

Although leading rusher Lamical Perine returns, Jordan Scarlett departed early for the NFL draft. That leaves plenty of potential carries for Davis, a redshirt sophomore who has averaged more yards per rush (6.4) over his career than UF’s other backs.

“It means a lot to me,” Davis said. “I’ve been waiting so long to finally be able to come out and play football again.”

That wait is over. Davis is back on the field.

Now all he needs to do is stay there.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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