Davis embraces role as Texas’ elder statesman

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Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Senior defensive back Antwuan Davis addressed members of the media on Tuesday night after practice with nothing but a smile on his face. 

For Davis, this was a change from his normal routine; he’s rarely gotten the chance to speak with reporters. So the first question Davis received was only fitting.

“When was the last time you talked to the media?” a reporter asked.

“Probably spring practice,” Davis said. “Sounds about right. Yeah, it’s been a minute.”

Usually Davis’ starting counterpart, junior P.J. Locke III, speaks at these Tuesday night media availabilities. But Locke suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the Longhorns’ 38-7 win over Baylor last Saturday in Waco, sidelining the junior for the rest of the game. Subsequently, Davis filled in for Locke at nickelback and recorded three total tackles.

On Monday, head coach Tom Herman said Locke is “very doubtful” to play on Saturday against No. 8 TCU in Fort Worth. If Locke can’t play, Davis will make just the sixth start of his Longhorn career.

“You have to be the next guy. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready,” Davis said. “When your number’s called, that defense is gonna be expecting you to do the same thing the starter did.”

Davis has been around the 40 Acres for much longer than most of his teammates.

He’s one of only three players on Texas’ current roster who was on the team during former head coach Mack Brown’s final season in 2013. Senior linebacker Naashon Hughes and senior kicker Mitchell Becker join Davis in that select group. All three redshirted in 2013.

“(Davis) is the oldest out of all of us, so we always joke around with him about that,” sophomore safety Brandon Jones said.

During the win over Baylor, Davis said he received some of those old-man jokes. After all, Davis got much more playing time against the Bears than he normally does.

“Last game, the guys were teasing me, ‘You know, you ain’t had this much mileage in a while, huh?’ I said, ‘You right,’” Davis said. “After the game, I couldn’t really move. I was sore in places I didn’t even know I was sore at.”

Davis starred at Bastrop High School just about 45 minutes southeast of Austin. Along with playing cornerback, Davis was also a wide receiver, running back and kick-returner. He was a sprinter for the track team as well. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2013, and he arrived at Texas as the No. 15 cornerback in the nation, per ESPN.

Throughout his Texas career, Davis has largely been under the radar. This season, his role has mostly been on special teams. He had a fumble recovery on a kickoff against San Jose State in Week 2. His three tackles against Baylor matched his career high for a single game. But more than anything, Davis has been an elder statesman in the locker room for the Longhorns.

“He’s been through a lot of ball games. He has experience,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “He’s a tough kid. I love him as a human being. Forget about the football part of it. He’s a bright-eyed kid that comes into meetings (and) he’s always saying hello.” 

Davis has also been on good and bad defenses at Texas. In Davis’ first two years in Austin, the Longhorns had the luxury of players like Quandre Diggs, Jordan Hicks, Malcom Brown, Cedric Reed and Adrian Phillips suiting up on the defensive side of the ball. Davis looked up to those players while he was an underclassman.

Up until its monumental turnaround this season under Orlando, the Longhorns’ defense had been historically bad the past couple years, searching for the success that those former players helped bring when Davis was just beginning his Texas career.

“They showed us how great defense is supposed to be,” Davis said. “They showed us that every guy has a responsibility … and I think for a couple years we had been missing that. A lot of guys didn’t really trust each other. But now you have a defense (where) everybody’s for each other, everybody’s trusting each other. We’re starting to see the benefits on the field now.”

And Davis would be the one to best tell a difference.

After all, he’s been part of one of the worst stretches in the history of the program. The last time Texas had a winning season was in Davis’ first year on campus. That team in 2013 finished 8–5 and lost to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, which was the final game of Brown’s career as head coach.

Davis has seen the worst of Longhorn football, which is why he’s taken on the role of showing the younger players how to grow. 

“I’ve embraced it,” Davis said. “I know a lot of these young guys, they need somebody to look up to, to help them go forward and show them how to do it the right way. … And of course, it’s up to us older guys like me and Naashon that’s been on a winning team our freshman year — and that’s the last time we kind of really excelled as a program.”