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Memorable Utah State football career: Davis has excelled as cornerback

October 20, 2017

Over the past 10 years, Utah State’s football program has excelled at developing recruits who weren’t highly sought after into future NFL players.

Current NFL linebackers Bobby Wagner and Kyler Fackrell only received one FBS scholarship offer out of high school, and that was from the Aggies. Likewise, USU was Jalen Davis’ lone FBS offer, and the senior has evolved into one of college football’s premier cornerbacks.

“I’m grateful for (head) coach (Matt) Wells for giving me the offer and giving me the opportunity to play football at a D-I level,” said Davis, who had FCS offers from UC Davis and Northern Arizona. “So, I’m playing my heart out for him and for Utah State University.”

Davis has not looked back after taking the field as a starter against Tennessee as a true freshman on Aug. 31, 2014. In fact, No. 13 has started all 43 games he has played in as an Aggie. Davis has missed three contests during his collegiate career — one in 2014 and two in 2016 — due to injuries.

“I feel way blessed to be healthy because injuries ... can end a career just like that,” said Davis, who clearly worked hard in the weight room during the offseason. “And I’m just happy that I’ve been blessed to not have been hit with any serious injuries, and I’m just happy the training staff gets me right whenever I have a bruise or something like that.”

The son of Verdis and Dana Davis has turned a lot of heads as a senior as he is currently in a four-way tie for first place for the top spot among all FBS players with five interceptions. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder does rank first nationally in INT return yardage (120) and pick-sixes (three). Davis is also among the national leaders in passes defended (11) and sacks by a cornerback (3.0).

For his efforts, the former Helix (California) High School star has been selected as a midseason All-American by Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, ESPN and the Associated Press.

“Honestly, it doesn’t mean anything to me,” Davis said following Wednesday’s practice. “I just care about the end of the season. Midseason is great and all, but I want to be that (first-team selection) at the end of the season.”

“(Davis) was a guy who was not highly recruited coming out of high school and prepared himself to go out, have a great career and have great seasons year after year,” USU defensive backs coach Julius Brown said. “... And so it’s good to see him on those lists with guys that had a bunch of choices, but he’ll be the first to tell you his work’s not done. We have a long way to go and I think he’ll continue to prepare himself and make the most of it.”

And while Davis would ultimately like to be recognized as an all-Mountain West and All-America performer, his primary focus is helping the Aggies become bowl eligible.

“Man, it means a lot to me,” said Davis, who was born in Hawaii but grew up in La Mesa, California, a city about 17 miles from San Diego. “I just want to end my career off right, at a bowl game, so we can just go out, celebrate with my team and go off to a bowl game for all the Utah State fans.”

Davis already gave the Aggie faithful a performance for the ages in USU’s 40-24 triumph over BYU on Sept. 29 at Maverik Stadium. No. 13 matched the Mountain West single-game record with three interceptions, two of which he returned to the house — the second in electrifying fashion. Davis became the first FBS player since Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas in 2012 to record three INTs and two pick-sixes in the same contest.

“Nobody came up to me, but my Twitter (account) was blowing up that whole night of people just saying a whole lot of different things, so I was just happy I could do that for all of the Utah State fans, to help give them that victory,” said Davis, who leads all Aggies in INTs (five), passes broken up (six) and sacks (3.0).

The senior also had a pick-six against Idaho State in USU’s 2017 home opener and set up another defensive touchdown with a sequence to remember against San Jose State. After all, Davis flattened SJSU quarterback Josh Allen on a blitz, forcing him to fumble. USU linebacker Maika Magalei scooped up the loose pigskin and returned it 38 yards to the end zone. Davis got off the turf and threw a block to ensure Magalei scored — the kind of effort any coach would appreciate.

Davis, a 247Sports Freshman All-American, will finish his collegiate career with his name etched all over the USU record books. Davis, who is on track to graduate next May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, owns the top spot with 28 career passes broken up and he ranks second with 242 career INT return yards. He is also in a four-way tie for fourth place in career picks with 11.

Davis has been a talented, confident playmaker ever since he arrived in Logan, but has really improved his leadership skills from year to year. In fact, Brown asserted that’s the most impressive stride Davis made in the offseason.

“Just to see how he interacts with the young guys and tries to help them (is impressive), and he explains to them what he sees,” Brown said. “You know, he’s always been a guy who’s prepared himself to play, but I’ve really seen him make a jump in terms of helping everybody in the room, so we’re all on the same page and able to go out and play on Saturdays.”

The opportunity to play on Saturdays is waning for Davis and several of his teammates, but the senior has legitimate aspirations of competing on Sundays. Getting invited to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine are more immediate goals for Davis, but playing at the next level is his ultimate objective.

“Man, it would be a big dream for me, me and my family,” said Davis who, as a prep senior, was selected as his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and garnered first-team all-league accolades as a wide receiver. “You know, my family’s been pushing me this whole time, just for me to do what I like to do, what I enjoy to do ... so I’m just trying to do that for them.”

Brown is confident the effervescent Davis — “man, the thing I’ll miss most about him is him smiling and having fun with the guys in the meeting room” — has what it takes to have a successful career in the NFL.

“The No. 1 thing that he has is he’s a competitor and you can’t teach that,” Brown said. “He was born with that, you know, and he scraps the entire time. He has really, really outstanding football instincts and so he’s able to dissect plays that most kids his age cannot dissect, and he has ball skills. And so it’s up to (NFL teams) to obviously study and make their choice, but I tell them all I love Jalen to death and you’d have to show me a better (cornerback).”