blue ridge bank

Hagans believes Davis has a chance to be one of greatest receivers in Virginia history

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Lavel Davis Jr.

Lavel Davis Jr. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Bronco Mendenhall’s answer to my question about Lavel Davis Jr. was quick and to the point.

I asked how he planned to expand Davis’ role in the offense and how important spring practice would be toward accomplishing that plan.

“Yeah, it’s pretty simple,” Bronco said with a wide grin. “Throw it to him more.”

Davis became an instant star on Virginia’s football team last season when he seemingly dropped out of the sky to become the Cavaliers’ most lethal deep threat as a freshman wide receiver. He was Mendenhall’s best kept secret of training camp, completely under the radar of media and fans.

Even though he played in only eight of Virginia’s 10 games, he became one of only five FBS players since 2000 to post 500 or more receiving yards on 20 or fewer receptions, and he was just a true freshman.

For the record, Davis had 20 catches for 515 yards, 25.8 yards per reception and five touchdowns, including a 90-yard catch-and-run. That’s 20 catches on only 42 targets (5.3 targets per game).

No wonder Mendenhall didn’t blink when I asked the question.

“As soon as he goes in, lines up, he’s already open because there’s no corners that are 6-foot-7, at least not that I know of,” Mendenhall said. “I thought he had a very strong first year, and so as he keeps going, that just means more opportunities. That will happen this spring, it will happen in the fall. But the easy answer is, yeah, we’ve just got to throw it to him more. Even if someone’s on him, really, so what? You know they’re 5-10.

“There’s more balls in the 50-50 category that go his way, and we intend to do that. Not just for the sake of it, because of the hype, but [Davis] was showing enough capability in production as the season went on, where he’s warranted considering now the ball is going there more frequently.”

With Virginia’s experienced offensive line returning intact, that should provide starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong and backups Keytaon Thompson and Ira Armstead more time to find targets. An expected improved running game should help open up opportunities for receivers, particularly play-action.

I’ll never forget sitting in the press box at Scott Stadium for UVa’s opener against Duke. We kept noticing this big receiver and wondered why Armstrong kept throwing it his way.

We soon found out.

Davis hauled in four passes on eight targets that night for 101 yards and two touchdowns as UVA easily beat the Blue Devils. From that point on, all eyes were on Davis, who wasn’t just tall … he was fast, too. Plus, even though he already had the size advantage on opposing defensive backs, but he could leap.

Because Mendenhall doesn’t allow freshmen to be interviewed by media, everyone was scrambling to learn more about this freshman phenom.

This past Sunday night on a podcast hosted by yours truly and Chris Graham (that podcast is on this site), we found out even more about Davis from Virginia wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, who has coached some of the program’s greatest pass catchers.

Hagans has developed Davis, but he gave credit due to inside linebackers coach Shane Hunter for discovering the giant receiver. Hunter’s recruiting territory includes South Carolina.

“[Hunter] was like, man, I’m telling you, there’s a kid you need to go see,” Hagans said of their conversation. “I’m just telling you need to go see him.”

Hagans said Davis lived out in the country (Woodland High School in Dorchester, S.C., the outer edges of the North Charleston area). Davis had not attracted much attention from recruiters. Georgia Tech was the only Power Five school that contacted him. Nearby Coastal Carolina, Liberty and Appalachian State gave him a look.

Talk about Hunter discovering a diamond in the rough.

“Shane kept texting me … did you see him yet,” Hagans chuckled. “Did you see him yet? I’m like, man this dude better be something special.

“When [Lavel] came through the door, I was like, holy crap. I mean he was tall, and when you got a chance to talk to him, he was so beyond his years not just with football, but just maturity and how he carried himself. He was a really good student. He had goals and was very goal oriented. He came from a really good family and the coach loved him. The community loved him.

“You know, when you walk through the door and the school secretary was like, Lavel is a great kid. Everything that everyone I came across, even the school janitor, had stories about Lavel.”

Hagans sees a bright future for his big receiver. He just wants him to stay healthy and humble.

Davis is one of the first people at the McCue Center every morning. He listens. Sure, he’s athletic and 6-7, but Hagans said what people an’t see is how hard the receiver works every day.

“The game of football is really important to him,” Hagans said. “The sky is the limit. He has a chance to be one of the best to ever play here.”

Because of the work ethic Davis displays, he’s rapidly gaining respect from teammates, not just because he makes big plays, but because of who he is and what he’s all about.

One of those players is Terrell Jana, who has been a standout receiver for UVA the past two seasons. When asked about Davis during Jana’s recent Pro Day participation, he had nothing but praise.

“Besides just the 6-7 freak athlete he is, I think the thing that sticks out with me is just his willingness and eagerness to get better,” Jana said. “For a first-year, especially in the fall, to seek out help and seek out extra work is pretty rare. I learned that going into the spring my second year.

“For [Davis] 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, I’m super excited he’s here. He’s special.”

Don’t worry about Davis developing an inflated ego. Hagans won’t allow that to happen.

“You have to remain humble and keep working as if those [accolades] don’t exist,” Hagans said. “I’m here to remind [all of UVA’s receivers, including Davis] of that reality and so when that bubble starts to float, I just take a pin and pop it and tell them to get back to work.”

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