Virginia fans welcome the return of Lavel Davis, hoping for another big splash from their biggest target

By Jerry Ratcliffe

lavel davis jr.

ERIN EDGERTON/THE DAILY PROGRESS Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. (81) catches the ball during a game against North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. N.C State defeated UVa 38-21.

Sitting in the press box at Scott Stadium for Virginia’s opener against Duke in 2020, I couldn’t figure out why the Cavaliers were so determined to throw the ball toward a lanky, unknown freshman wide receiver in the first half.

As the game grew on, it became evident why Lavel Davis, Jr., was the target. The 6-foot-7 rookie eventually caught four passes in that game, two of them fourth-quarter touchdowns, and was named ACC Rookie of the Week for becoming the first receiver in UVA history to post 100+ receiving yards in their collegiate debut.

Davis had been Bronco Mendenhall’s best-kept secret up until that point. No mention of the youngster out of Dorchester, S.C., or his potential during preseason confabs with media. The big target didn’t remain a secret for long, but that didn’t make him any easier to defend as Davis went on to finish No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in the ACC with a 25.75 yards per reception average. He finished 2020 as the only player in the nation with 500+ receiving yards on 20 or fewer receptions.

Fast forward to August training camp 2022 and Davis is almost starting all over again. New coach Tony Elliott hasn’t tried to keep Davis a secret, but hasn’t exactly promoted his name either. Maybe Elliott is hoping that with the cadre of name receivers he has returning that most opponents have have somehow forgotten or overlooked Davis, who missed he entire 2021 campaign while recuperating from a torn ACL.

Bring up Davis’ name in offensive discussions and we hear the same response. Needs to be more consistent, needs to work on the little things.

Still, there’s no substitute for being 6-foot-7. As Bronco used to say, “When you’re 6-7, you’re always open.”

Davis is counting on it come Sept. 3 when Virginia opens to Elliott Era against state opponent Richmond. Since his gridiron heroics in 2020, the Cavaliers’ receiving corps has developed into the strength of the team with seasoned veterans such as Billy Kemp IV, Keytaeon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks.

All that’s just fine with Davis, who knows what he has to do to put his name back on the map once again.

He is a better version of himself from spring drills when he reported at his heaviest weight ever, 230 pounds. He’s down to 215 through summer conditioning and running routes with proficiency.

“I want to be one of the best receivers to come out of Virginia,” Davis declared. “Our group is really talented, everyone doing their part in trying to get to the NFL, so competition is high. Iron sharpens iron, so the harder they go, I’m trying to go harder. We learn from each other and we push each other every day. I love their competitiveness and I love the pressure.”

Davis said he totally trusts his rehab and is mentally fine with where his body is at this point, that he feels good no matter if he pushes himself to the brink of exhaustion. He’s confident he is ready for the season ahead in every aspect of his game.

Elliott confessed that he can be particularly hard on his wide receivers because he played that position at Clemson and so holds high expectations of those players. Davis doesn’t have issues with that.

“I like him being hard on us,” Davis said. “I’m trying to soak up everything and be a sponge.”

There’s a lot to learn with a new system, while trying to work his body into playing shape and competing for playing time after missing a year.

“I played my freshman year and then had to sit back and just watch everybody flourish, so you take a step back and look at it through a different lens,” Davis said. “It made me grow as a teammate. I never missed a single season of football since I started playing, so I have a different type of hunger coming back.”

He describes the coaching change, bringing in some new coaches, some who even have a background from his home state of South Carolina as all part of “God’s plan,” something he and his grandmother agree on.

“If was an adjustment on how to adapt to it, but it pushed me and made me grow,” Davis said.

Should the big target manage to step right back in where he left off in 2020, Davis could have stardom written in his future and give Virginia a boost toward returning to the top of the Coastal Division.

Just remember, he’s 6-7 and he’s always open.