Clemson Football: Reaping the Harvest James Davis Sewed

Nov 29, 2014; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers fans celebrate during the fourth quarter of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Tigers won 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2014; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers fans celebrate during the fourth quarter of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Tigers won 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

James Davis sewed the seeds that grew into a successful Clemson football program.

I wrote an article that was published here a few days ago and I highlighted, who in my opinion, was the top three wide receivers in Clemson Football history. You should go read it, if you haven’t already because here’s a spoiler alert. DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins was my number one on that list.

I listed all of his stats, and one game in particular, that I thought changed the course of direction for the entire Clemson program. It was the win against LSU in the Chic-Fil-A bowl, in which Nuke went nuts and had 13 catches for 191 yards.

He owned that game. I said all of that to say this.

That one game may have changed the direction of the Clemson football program in my opinion, but there was also one player that changed the course of the Clemson Football program. There was one player that made Clemson relevant at the time, and one player that started the snowball effect of success that we are still enjoying today.

That player is James Davis.

James Davis is from the Atlanta area. He was a five-star running back out of Douglas High School where he rushed for 7,339 yards and 80 touchdowns. His senior season in high school, Davis had two 300 yard games.

This wasn’t pee-wee stats, or private school stats. He was playing at the highest level, 5A, in Georgia high school football. Everybody wanted James Davis. He was recruited by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Virginia Tech, LSU, Tennessee, Southern Cal, virtually every big school in the country wanted James Davis.

At the time, high school players, especially the blue chip players, were not exactly chomping at the bit to play for Clemson. The facilities were decades behind the traditional powers, and Clemson was mired in a rut of mediocrity.

In the four years prior to James Davis committing to the Tigers, the Bowden-led teams produced records of 6-5, 9-3, 7-6, and 7-6. That’s not exactly burning up the college football world. Davis’s arrival brought life to a Tiger program for the first time in maybe a decade.

It opened up people’s eyes that Clemson was taking football seriously again. It also opened up the eyes of the high school prospects, that it was ok to come to Clemson.

James Davis broke out of the gate his freshman year like a stallion on a mission. A gimmick that

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Tommy Bowden used often while recruiting high-profile offensive players was the promise that they’d get the first touch of the season.

The Tigers were playing Texas A&M, game one of the 2005 season. A night game, nationally televised. The perfect spotlight for the true freshman. The previous season, an A&M team that ended up being 7-5 on the season, spanked the Tigers out in College Station 27-6.

The Tigers had revenge on their mind, but it wouldn’t come easy. Davis, as promised took the opening hand off from Charlie Whitehurst for only a yard.  Clemson eventually won 25-24, a last second field goal, one of six on the night for Jad Dean, lifted the Tigers over the Aggies. But it was the drive leading up to that winning kick that changed the course of Clemson football.

With Whitehurst on the sidelines injured, Will Proctor, the 2nd string QB, with no game experience was expected to drive the Tigers to the win, with very little time left on the clock.

Enter James Davis. Bowden and then offensive coordinator Rob Spence gave the freshman eight consecutive carries, in which he gained 38 yards, enough to give Jad Dean a shot at a 42 yard walk off, game winning field goal. Dean split the uprights and the media darling, the freshman James Davis was the talk of the college football world.

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The West Endzone project has just started at Clemson. The facilities were finally being upgraded. A blue chip chose to play for, and embraced the spotlight for the Tigers. Davis ended his freshman campaign with 879 yards and 9 touchdowns, which set the Tiger single-season freshman touchdown record.

He had four 100-yard rushing games, most ever by a Tiger true freshman, and ranked first among freshmen in the ACC in rushing. Davis was subsequently named ACC Rookie of the Year, the first Tiger to win the award since Anthony Simmons in 1995.

He was also a second-team freshman All-American by and third-team by College Football News, as well as an honorable mention freshman All-American by Sporting News. Davis ended his Clemson career with 3881 yards, 2nd most all time, behind only Raymond Priester. Davis’ 47 rushing touchdowns are still a Clemson record.

The doors that James Davis opened are amazing. CJ Spiller has said that he came to Clemson, because a high-caliber guy like James Davis came here first.

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How many doors did Spiller open by coming here?

Without Davis, and then Spiller, we may not have had a shot at guys like Stephone Anthony, Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson. The list can go on and on. James Davis planted the seed, 11 years ago, that we are still reaping the harvest from today.