Florida's heart and soul, Jarrad Davis epitomizes team's determination to find a way
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two weeks ago, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis sprained his ankle so badly that he had to lean on two trainers to hobble off the field on one leg. Saturday in Jacksonville, the Gators leaned on their senior leader to knock off division rival Georgia for the third consecutive year.
“I can’t say enough,” coach Jim McElwain said. “Like I said, he practiced Wednesday, and not great. He got beat up by a tackling dummy on one play, but then he was there Thursday and obviously full-walk through Friday.
“He came back in after warmups and said, ‘Coach, I’m playing.’ And like I said, that was totally up to him. He’s the heart and soul of this team. And for him, this game meant a lot. And he’s going to be sore.”
Davis’ injury was only described as a “bad ankle sprain” and an exact timetable for his return was not disclosed to the media. Teammate Alex Anzalone knew that Davis wanted to be out there, but wasn’t sure he would be able to bounce back so soon.
“Honestly, not that confident, just from what I was hearing from him, but I knew there was a chance even if he was feeling a little down,” Anzalone said. “I know on Wednesday, he wasn’t really feeling it, but I knew that come game time, he was going to want to play.”
Davis did want to play. He had to play – somehow, some way.
“I didn’t know how it was going to end up, I just knew that I had to keep fighting no matter what,” Davis said. “Our training staff is one of the best in America. I came in there early, be in there all day, go to class come right back, go get some lunch comes right back. It’s like I lived in there this week.
“They knew I was going to do everything I could to be out here with my boys, man. Once I came out for warm-ups I felt good. I felt the environment a little bit. I came out for pregame warmups. I just felt the energy in the stadium and I knew I had to play. I knew I had to play.”
The senior linebacker (No. 40, above) is always an emotional leader for the Gators. Saturday he was also the defense’s statistical leader, recording a team-high 7 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
The most important tackle came on Georgia’s final possession, when the Bulldogs faced 4th-and-3. Davis made the play on Natrez Patrick for a 2-yard loss.
“I saw the formation before the play and I kind of knew what was coming,” Davis said. “I took a really good educated guess and I guessed right. To make that play, it meant a lot. It’s fourth down, get the ball back to our offense we can run the clock out and get back out of here. It meant a lot to end the game like that, my last Florida-Georgia experience.”
As a Georgia native who grew up not far from the Florida border in Kingsland, Ga., it’s no secret that Davis was extra motivated to play against the Bulldogs. With a win over UGA, the Gators have their sights set on getting back to the Peach State.
“I mean we definitely know we’re a good team, you know. And there’s a lot of things we can do to elevate our game. And this run that’s coming up, we’ve got to really, really take the time out to put in the extra effort to really make ourselves the team that we are, the team that we can be,” Davis said of UF’s stretch run to hold onto the SEC East lead.
“We’re the Florida Gators, we need to prepare like the Florida Gators. That name holds a lot of weight, a lot of respect in this country. We need to demand it throughout the week so we can show up on Saturday and really impose our will.”
Just like Davis’ determination to play Saturday won out over a very painful injury, the defense is determined to carry the Gators to Atlanta, regardless of how much support it gets from the offense along the way. The veteran unit has learned from last year’s three-game losing skid that ended the season.
“I mean it’s tough to see (the offense struggle), but I’m a guy who likes to think positively,” Davis said. “I like to keep it real as well, but at the same time you can’t sit back and dwell on the misfortunes. That’s what we did last year and we sank, we saw exactly what happened. So instead of pouting about a bad situation, why not let’s take the game into our own hands defensively?”
“We’re going to get tired, things are going to go wrong, but we know the calls, we know what our reads are. So we need to just go out there and play our game and execute. No matter what the offense does, we can get a turnover, we can spark them. We’ve just got to keep doing us, we can’t focus on them. The moment we focus on them, that’s when we’re going to slip and that’s when this thing gets out of hand.”