For any athlete transferring into a new program, life can be difficult. They have to adjust to a new campus, new coaches and teammates and a different way of life. For redshirt sophomore Wayne Davis, however, he had to adjust to much more than his surroundings.
A cornerback out of Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia, Davis was a four-star recruit on his way to the prestigious Ohio State University. Given his size and physicality, Davis moved to safety for a better fit based on his physical tools, but still failed to find time on the field after redshirting a year. Looking for a better opportunity, Davis packed his bags and headed back to Virginia, transferring to JMU.
“I’m home, you know, it just feels good to be home,” Davis said.
Since his decision to transfer to the Dukes came in late May, following the conclusion of the academic year, Davis missed the spring sessions and an early chance to carve a role on the team. As the summer sessions went on, junior Adam Smith and redshirt sophomore D’Angelo Amos earned the two starting safety roles.
With only two spots at safety, Davis was left without a starting job. The coaching staff, however, knew his value and tried to manipulate a way to bring him on the field.
“When you look at it he has to be on the field somewhere, and we’re monkeying around right now with different places to play him,” head coach Mike Houston said before the season. “He’s too good a player and he’s been such a positive impact in every facet … you’ve got to find ways to get him on the field.”
Monkeying around resulted in another position change for Davis, as he earned the starting job at outside linebacker/nickel cornerback. It’s a position that, in the past, had been utilized by two individuals, and Davis would hold the job all on his own — a praise to his unique athletic ability.
When Davis had played as a back-end defensive back, most of his responsibilities were in the passing game. Now, in his new role, Davis floats from playing in the box as an outside linebacker, moving out in space as a curl defender, marking up on the slot receiver and occasionally blitzing.
“You go from a guy that’s back there not doing a whole lot, to now you’re up close to the line of scrimmage,” Houston said. “It’s a heavy contact position.”
The most difficult part about the hybrid position is that approaching a play is dependent on what you expect the offense to do. Last year, the position had been held by the combo of junior Bryce Maginley and senior Curtis Oliver. Maginley would stay on the field in early-down scenarios where the defense expected a run, while Oliver would come on in clear passing situations.
With just Davis, the defense doesn’t need to substitute depending on scenario, but they do still need to be prepared for any situation. Certain plays are called in base or nickel personnel, but adapting to what actually happens is another ball game.
“It’s a pretty special group of skills for an athlete,” Houston said. “We could take him and put him at corner, we could take him and play him at free safety, put him at rover and he can play rover, so this is a guy that can play all five positions in the secondary.”
Not only has he began to grow on the field, he’s also growing his bond with the team. Houston noted how players that come from powerhouse FBS programs can come to a smaller school with a big head and inflated ego, but Davis has seemed to leave all that back in Columbus.
“It’s actually pretty weird, Wayne’s a huge goofball,” Smith said. “As soon as he came here he was able to mesh with everyone pretty fast.”
Blessed with God-given ability, Davis has grown tremendously in the position. The last two weeks he had an interception — the one against Elon was called back due to a penalty — and has a two-game stretch of four tackles.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Davis said. “I feel like I am getting the hang of things, it was just a big transition, but I’m always up for a challenge.”
Contact Blake Pace at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.