He has only been on campus for a little under eight months, but it’s safe to say that Justin Davis has made quite an impression in his time at USC. Arriving in the spring as an early-enrollee freshman, Davis starred throughout the March and April workouts, emerging atop the post-spring depth chart at the tailback position alongside veterans Silas Redd and Tre Madden.
Fast forward to the beginning of fall camp and Davis picked right up where he left off. Showcasing a north-south rushing style marked by power and a knack for hitting the line of scrimmage before the defense knows it, he appeared to be making a strong bid for that starting tailback job -- particularly with Redd slow to return after suffering a torn meniscus in March, and Madden still being eased into the flow of things after tearing an ACL in the spring of 2012.
But just when Davis appeared to be getting into a groove, he went down on Aug. 8 with an ankle injury.
A little over a week later, however, the 6-foot-1 and 201-pound rusher was back in action, and over the course of the last few days he appears to have returned to form, looking just as sharp and in command with the ball in his hands as ever.
“It definitely has been a great feeling to be back out here,” Davis said following USC’s scrimmage on Wednesday -- one in which he rushed for 21 yards in a non-contact setting. “I’m getting stronger every day and I’m loving it. Having to sit out made me hungrier, because it really hit me that I’m competing for that running back spot. It made me get in my playbook so that when I came back on the field, I was able to pick up where I left off before I got hurt. Once my ankle got better, my legs and everything else followed.”
And Davis isn’t the only one. Madden has seen his workload pick up dramatically as of late, with Redd gradually beginning to take part in portions of each practice as well. Throw in Ty Isaac, who also recently returned from an undisclosed injury, on top of the consistent level of production received from Javorius Allen this month, and despite the likely absence of D.J. Morgan -- who missed the entirety of fall camp -- the Trojans could have a very deep and talented tailback unit available when the team opens up at Hawaii on Aug. 29.
“Step-by-step everyone is coming back,” said Davis, who rushed for 1,806 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln last fall. “Tre is back, Silas is coming back in a couple of day ... we have at least four guys who can start, and the offense wouldn’t miss a step. I definitely have a bunch of talented guys around me, and it pushes me to work that much harder to keep getting better.”
But with just a little over a week to go before that first game, Davis is well aware that he still has more to prove as he makes a push for the role as the Trojans’ No.1 tailback.
“I definitely want to come out here and just work hard every day,” Davis said. “I’m going to make sure that I keep my head in the playbook so I’m in a position where I know all of my plays, so if the coaches put me in the game, I’ll know what I’m doing.”
With his mindset focused, in addition to the unique skills as a ball carrier that he possesses, there’s reason to believe when the Trojans up in Honolulu, whether he’s starting or not, Davis will be ready to make an impact.
“That’s going to be my first college game,” Davis said. “I’m definitely jacked for it.”