Photo: Malik Davis; Credit: Zach Goodall, AllGators.com
It doesn't matter what team the Florida Gators were playing against on Saturday night, redshirt senior running back Malik Davis looked like a new man, running as hard as he had during his freshman season and making better decisions with the ball than any other back on the team.
On Saturday night against Florida Atlantic, Davis carried the football with purpose, toting the rock 14 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. He had multiple explosive runs on the day, including gains of 41, 17 and 21 yards throughout the night.
While the redshirt senior has been known as more of a receiver over the past couple of seasons, it was his work between and around the tackles that made his night so impressive.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen echoed those sentiments on Saturday shortly following the team's 35-14 victory over FAU.
"I thought he really ran the ball hard, breaking tackles, yards after contact, his vision, I thought he did a really good job with that," Mullen said. "But that's what we've been seeing and that's the Malik I know and expect to see throughout the season and he's really worked hard at that."
Davis has "worked hard at that," and even still, that would be an understatement, especially considering everything he's gone through during his career while at Florida.
Davis joined the Gators in 2017 under former Florida head coach Jim McElwain. During his freshman season, he would show off his explosiveness and speed, accounting for 526 yards on just 79 carries. A season-ending injury would derail the impressive start to his career, however.
The following year, Davis would suffer another season-ending injury, leading to a medical redshirt. Even in 2019, when Davis returned from his injury, he wasn't able to show off his talents, still dealing with the after-effects of two serious injuries, one a knee injury, another an ankle.
For many, those types of injuries would hinder a running back's ability to take the next step, but Davis certainly hasn't given up, rushing for 100 yards for the first time since his freshman season against Vanderbilt.
“It’s definitely been a journey, and I just thank God. I’m just excited, as you can see," Davis said following the game on Saturday. "At a loss for words. I love this game and everything that comes with it. So I’m definitely excited and I’m definitely going to enjoy the night and enjoy this win.”
Playing with confidence, Davis looked like the best and, ironically, freshest running back on the gridiron for Florida on Saturday night. He ran with authority and with confidence that Florida running backs coach Greg Knox said he has shown throughout the fall and into the season.
This season, the Gators will move towards a more run-heavy system, operating with guys like Davis in mind, and it appears the redshirt senior could be the one with the bulk of the carries, at least to start the year.
“It felt good, just knowing that people see the work that you’ve put in, and the coaches believe in you and put you in situations to be successful," Davis said of earning the starting nod on Saturday. "So, it felt good.”
Feeling good is another understatement, it must feel special for Davis to overcome everything he's gone through to get to this point in his career. While, yes, there is likely of the season yet to be played, the start he's had to 2021 shouldn't go unnoticed and Florida ought to be impressed with his strength, determination and character heading into the last year of his career.
Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.