COLUMBIA — Before he departed South Carolina for an elite training facility in Pensacola, Fla., and a possible career in the NFL, Marcus Lattimore offered freshman running back Mike Davis a tidbit of advice – stop spinning.
Davis, the younger brother of former Clemson running back James Davis, took that suggestion to heart nearly four weeks ago when he rushed for 43 yards on 12 carries in a 27-17 victory over the rival Tigers, affording him family bragging rights for the next 11-1-2 months.
But the opportunity to learn and grow under Lattimore is what has made his freshman campaign memorable for Davis, the top running back in Georgia for the 2012 recruiting cycle.
“(Lattimore) has helped me out a lot,” Davis said on Tuesday following practice in preparation for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. “I was looking for that person that I could play behind and learn a lot from, a veteran who has been in a lot of games and had a lot of touchdowns and yards and broken records. I was just trying to learn from him, and I learned a lot.”
Lattimore’s strongest piece of football-related advice to Davis was to not spin into any hard hits.
“On my highlight tapes, I did a lot of spinning and reversing field,” Davis said. “Here, you don’t want to spin into a big hit. One day I did spin and was close to Jadeveon Clowney belting me. He just told me to stop spinning and just get forward.”
Lattimore also offered instruction to Davis on a number of other topics as well, many of them not related to football.
“It’s been more about life,” Davis said. “How I’m doing, how he’s doing. Anything he could help me out with, he was there.”
One morsel of wisdom Lattimore gave him has stood out, however.
“He told me to just be true to myself and be the same person I was in high school,” Davis said. “He said a lot of people come in and change and try to be another person. But just come in and do what you got recruited for.”
Davis said that following Lattimore’s guidance helped him in the final regular-season contest.
“It was good because I had the urge to play Clemson coming off the recruiting trail. I was ready to play against them,” said Davis, adding that he is back to 100 percent healthy after being dinged up in the Nov. 24 win that secured USC’s second straight double-digit winning season.
Once the Outback Bowl match-up with Michigan is history, Davis will start preparing for his sophomore season and what should be a feisty four-way battle in the spring for the No. 1 running back job with Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and Kendric Salley. Davis knows that he must improve in a lot of areas to give himself the best chance of prevailing.
“Everything,” Davis replied when asked what he wanted to improve on in the off-season. “Pass protection, running, trying to get faster and bigger.”
While the competition on the practice field will surely be heated, Davis said the quartet remains “best friends” away from the gridiron.
“We love each other,” Davis said. “We talk all the time and pick each other up. Any tips we have, we try to help each other out.”
Even though he has carried just 52 times for 275 yards this season entering the Outback Bowl, Davis doesn’t regret contributing as a true freshman because he believes the experience will boost his chances of earning the starting job in 2013.
“It’s a good feeling having gotten some experience,” Davis said. “I’m a lot more prepared (for the offseason and next season). It’s better to be out there on the field and banging with guys than just watching it on film. It’s better to have had that experience. Having a good bowl game will boost the confidence.”
“Getting a feel for the game,” Davis continued. “Getting into a groove. Actually being out there is a good feeling. The fact you’re learning and you know what to expect, that’s the good thing.”
Davis credits watching his older brother, who is now 26 years old, carrying the ball for Clemson and the acclaim he received when he scored a touchdown for accelerating his desire to play running back.
“It helped me out a lot because at first I wasn’t on offense,” Davis said. “I played safety all my life until high school. I liked the fact my brother was scoring touchdowns, so I wanted to try running back and thought I might be good at it.
“I played both positions, but scoring touchdowns felt so much better. So I decided to just stay on the offensive side.”
Even though they’ve sided with rival schools, Davis said he still consults with his older brother on some of the nuances involved in playing the running back position.
“The thing we talk about the most is pass protection and who’s coming,” Davis said. “The running part comes easy. He always tells me that he feels I have better vision than he did.”