Tigers' Davis plays key role with multiple duties

Monday, November 8, 2010
Central senior Austin Davis fields a punt during a game earlier this season. (Kristin Eberts)

The senior leads the team in interceptions, returns punts and kickoffs, and provides a breather for the starting running backs

Senior Austin Davis rarely catches a breather during a Central football game.

It's about the only thing he doesn't catch.

Davis does a little of everything. He's a starting safety on defense. He's the main return man on kickoffs and punts. He's the backup to Keilon Moore and James Poindexter in the offensive backfield, which means he's earned some carries for the Tigers.

"I just pass out right when I get home and I'm usually pretty sore the next morning," Davis said.

KRISTIN EBERTS keberts@ semissourian.com (Central senior Austin Davis returns a punt during a game earlier this season. Davis also returns kickoffs, plays safety on defense and serves as a backup running back on offense.)

Davis wouldn't want it any other way. He appreciates the opportunity to help the Tigers in any way he can during his senior season.

"My year's gone really well," Davis said. "I was in the weight room a lot more than I was in previous years and that's had something to do with my performance. I've just gone out there and tried to contribute what I can."

Davis' contributions have helped the Tigers enter tonight's Class 4 sectional playoff game with a 10-1 record and the chance to avenge their lone loss, a 21-0 setback to Sikeston in Week 9.

"I want to get them back because that wasn't us when we played them a couple weeks ago," he said.

Davis makes his biggest impact on defense, where he leads the team with four interceptions.

"I just read my keys and try to put myself in the athletic position to make a play, and the ball finds me," he said. "The feeling's awesome. I've scored a touchdown and I think getting an interception feels better than that, for me at least."

Davis hopes to put together another impressive game against Sikeston. He intercepted Bulldogs quarterback Trey Lewis twice in their first meeting.

"He plays his coverages and reads his keys very well," Central coach Rich Payne said. "As a safety sometimes, you have to be patient. You have to be patient and read what you see in front of you and make sure you stay in position. When you have that opportunity, you break on the ball and use your athletic ability."

Davis is one of three seniors in the Tigers' defensive backfield. He joins fellow seniors Moore and Jaeson Reddin and sophomore Chris Martin. Davis said the four have developed a strong bond that helps them limit the opposition's passing game.

"There's a bunch of trust," Davis said. "There's a lot of team chemistry back there, too. I know I can rely on all those guys and they can rely on me. I do my best to prove myself."

It helps that the four players are friends off the field, too.

"It makes us gel together better and have more trust and know he's going to have that tackle, he's going to make that play right," Reddin said.

Moore, the Tigers' other safety, trusts Davis to handle anything on his side of the field.

"I basically know if somebody's crossing, Austin's going to always pick him up, even if he's not supposed to," Moore said. "He's always alert. He's always paying attention."

After Davis helps the defense stop an opponent, he's the one who drops back to field punts. It's a responsibility he took on last season. He leans on his skill set in his favorite sport -- baseball -- to handle the punt return duties.

"One, he's a good, common-sense young man," Payne said. "He's got good common sense and doesn't take a risk when a risk is not necessary. I think a lot of it also comes from his background as a baseball player. His background as a baseball player, especially in the outfield, you've got to know, do I charge that ball? Do I not charge that ball? Do I back off and play that ball on a bounce? How do I play that ball? Those skills from baseball correlate to what he's doing as a punt return guy."

Davis isn't afraid to call for a fair catch or let the punt bounce, and Payne appreciates Davis' decision making.

"He's smart enough that when it's time to put his arm in the air and fair catch the thing and just say, 'OK, this is where we're going to start the next offensive series,' that's good," Payne said.

The coaches allow Davis to make his own decision on when to return a punt. He said the key is to watch his blockers as the ball sails toward him.

"When they kick it, I check my two outside blockers," Davis said. "And if they have the man pretty well sealed and there's no pressure in the middle, I know I have a pretty good chance to return it."

Davis said he rarely second-guesses his decision to return it or call for a fair catch. He makes his decision and sticks with it.

"That's happened once or twice this year, but not too often," he said about the second-guessing. "There's been a couple times I almost picked it up but thought better of it."

Davis gets a chance to catch his breath after the return, if he's lucky. He serves as the backup to two of the Tigers' running backs, but that's not a knock against his ability to carry the ball.

"If there's not a Keilon Moore out there, he's probably our No. 1 four back," Payne said. "He's a talented athlete and he's very consistent in his efforts.

"We're trying to have less people go both ways and keep them fresh. He was one of those."

Davis has earned 11 carries and gained 114 yards. He's scored two touchdowns, including a 25-yarder against De Soto in the Tigers' playoff opener Wednesday.

"Those guys, they're work horses," Davis said about Poindexter and Moore. "I can't say enough about them. I just try to get in there and do what I can."

Davis barely got any time to celebrate his touchdown. It was time to head back out on defense.

"When you're out there, your adrenaline is pumping for the most part," he said. "I usually don't even feel it for the most part."

Even though baseball is Davis' favorite sport -- he hopes to play in college -- he doesn't mind the physical exhaustion of football in light of the success of the team.

"I honestly didn't see us being as good as we were," he said. "I knew we'd be good and I knew we'd handle most of the teams we played, but to be 10-1 and to be in the position we are to make a big run in the state playoffs, I don't know if I saw this. But it's a great feeling."

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